New guidelines are being drawn up by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in relation to prosecuting people who incite abuse on social media.
The guidance which was published this week could see “trolls” who post doctored images online or encourage people to harass others, a practice sometimes referred to as virtual mobbing, could face charges.
Alison Saunders, the CPS’ director of public prosecutions, said that an approach was needed in which people who were abusive over the internet faced the same consequences as those who behaved in a similar manner in person.
But she insisted that the new measures were not designed to “stifle” free speech.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Saunders said: “The internet’s not an anonymous place where people can post without any consequences. People should think about their own conduct.
“If you are grossly abusive to people, if you are bullying or harassing people online, then we will prosecute in the same way as if you did it offline.”
During the interview she stressed that context would play a big part in whether or not someone would face criminal charges for a post on Twitter or Facebook, arguing that there was a clear difference between offensive remarks and “grossly offensive” content.
The guidance was published shortly after a new report which suggested that online abuse was becoming more common, particularly among younger people.
According to the research, a quarter of all teenagers are attacked over the internet because of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
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