If people can’t behave themselves online, they shouldn’t be there at all, says RAYMOND BOYLE

 

Recent events have demonstrated that the World Wide Web has become the Wild West Web, where it appears that anything goes and is inhabited by lawless cowboys intent on causing trouble, thinking that they are safe in the  knowledge that no-one can get them.

Think again.

One of the most despicable cases to reach the courts recently was the case where the victim was singled out by a strange individual who randomly picked out a 19 year old woman and made her life complete hell by sending her packages with wires protruding from them, and sending her bizarre presents such as a puzzle, a watch and a book, and calling her in the early hours of the morning. All of this began using details on her Facebook page.

The Detective Chief Inspector who was involved in bringing the individual to court said: “Harassment and stalking are crimes. Nationally around one in five women and one in ten men will be stalked at some point in their lives.” The abuser was sentenced to 36 weeks in jail.

Cyber abusers are as guilty of abusing people as much as paedophiles and individuals who carry out domestic violence. Abuse is abuse.

We have also witnessed the situation recently where the Scottish comedian Susan Calman suffered cyber abuse because of comments that she made on a radio program. I would imagine if she had suffered this type of abuse out on the street, in a restaurant or in a shop the police would have been called and the individuals arrested and sentenced either to a heavy fine or jail or both.

Freedom of speech is one thing on the internet; abusing that freedom of speech is an entirely different matter. Having witnessed the type of cyber abuse aimed at politicians of all parties it never ceases to amaze me that the individuals involved are leaving a trail of abuse on the computer and everyone else’s computer who is following the thread and therefore leaving themselves open to prosecution as the evidence of the harassment is recorded.

Debating with politicians in a reasoned and rational way is an acceptable part of freedom of speech; abusing them and vilifying them is not. We can change the politician who represents us at the ballot box if we are not happy. Anything other than that is denying a democratic debate with others who may feel that they want to say something but are prevented because of the irrational and personal abuse that their representative is receiving.

The other aspect which comes from this is the fact that it is the law makers who are being abused and it is within their responsibilities to provide laws that will prevent this type of online abuse from taking place in the first instance.

The laws of harassment and stalking may well be the way to conduct criminal proceedings against people who carry out the type of venomous attacks that we have all seen. But if people cannot conduct themselves in a reasonable way online they should not be there. The law HAS to keep up with modern technology too and different sentences for cyber abusers need to be considered, such as restricting offenders’ access to the internet, a traffic light system (green amber and red) where a warning is issued to the cyber abuser and on red is contacted by the police about their behaviour and informed what the consequences will be.

The likelihood is that there are probably quite a few individuals who are going online and are serial abusers of people. it is these people who the measures should be aimed at.

Raymond Boyle is a former Labour councillor.