Online Stalking or Trolling
Over recent years, cyberbullying and online stalking and abuse (often referred to as “trolling”) has become an increasingly significant issue affecting teenagers, celebrities and other internet users alike. The impact that such behaviour can have on a victim and their mental health can be significant. This has been recognised by the community and advocacy groups have called for specific offences to be introduced to address such behaviours.
Certain actions, such as sending an offensive, menacing or harassing message to a person can now be the subject of criminal charges. However, law enforcement agencies face significant difficulties in investigating and prosecuting such crimes where the offender has created a fake account in order to troll someone. It is however possible for such persons to be prosecuted, particularly with advancements in law enforcement. It is becoming increasingly common for police to obtain IP address data and other information which assists them in ascertaining and locating the perpetrator of any alleged crimes.
In New South Wales there is no specific offence for online stalking or trolling, however persons may be charged under a range of other offences which include:
- Criminal defamation, which can be committed where a person publishes false statements or remarks with the intent to cause serious harm to another person;
- Using a Carriage Service to Menace/Harass/Offend;
- Using A Carriage Service To Threaten Life;
- Distributing Intimate Image Without Consent;
- Intimidation; or
- Unauthorised Computer Access Offences which include offences for accessing (or hacking) into someone’s computer with the intention of committing a serious offence.
These charges may be laid where:
- a person has been the recipient of abusive messages, social media posts or emails from a fake profile;
- celebrity or public figure has had their computer or phone hacked and had sensitive images or personal information shared online; or
- a person is being stalked online by someone who is incessantly creating fake accounts, sending large numbers of messages and/or attempting to add them on various social media platforms.
These offences are serious and all carry maximum penalties of imprisonment. The most common charge for online stalking is a Commonwealth offence known as ‘Use Carriage Service to Menace, Harass or Offend’. A detailed overview of that offence, including elements of the offence and maximum penalties can be found here.
In certain circumstances, as well as charging the person responsible, the police may also apply for an apprehended domestic or personal violence order to protect the alleged victim of such offences. Such orders may prevent a defendant from engaging in any harassing conduct and/or from approaching or contacting the protected person, including through online means. These types of orders are particularly common where the alleged offending is domestic violence-related.
If you have been charged with an offence relating to cyberbullying, online stalking or criminal defamation it is imperative that you seek expert legal advice promptly.