Online trolls, bane of social media life for many, could face stiffer sentences for creating fake profiles to abuse others under draft new guidelines drawn up by the Crown Prosecution Service.
A six week consultation has begun on the changes, which would see criminal charges brought against adults in England or Wales who use a false online identity to harass others with action being taken on messages deemed to be indecent, grossly offensive or likely to cause distress and anxiety.
Director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders said: “It is vital that prosecutors consider the bigger picture when looking at evidence and examine both the online and offline behaviour pattern of the defendant.
"Online abuse is cowardly and can be deeply upsetting to the victim."
As things stand prosecutions are brought in three distinct categories; a credible threat to an individual via online activity, the specific targeting of individuals for harassment, stalking, revenge porn or coercive behaviour and cases resulting in the breach of a court order.
The proposed changes would add a fourth category for less serious situations where messages are merely upsetting or likely to cause anxiety – although this must be weighed against freedom of speech to allow ‘banter’ and the airing of ‘unpopular opinions’.