Online trolls and cyberbullies in NSW face up to five years in jail under law change

Bellinda Kontominas | ABC.net | Source URL

Laws will be strengthened to protect people from cyberbullying and online trolling and keep up with changes to technology, the New South Wales Government has announced.

The changes aim to address an emerging trend of offenders threatening and harassing victims online through social media.

Those who stalk or intimidate using modern technology will face a maximum of five years in prison under legislation to be introduced this month.

Existing Commonwealth laws have a maximum of three years’ jail for the offence.

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the changes would make it “absolutely clear that online stalking and intimidation are no-goes in NSW”.

“Modern technology requires modern laws,” he said.

The laws will apply to those sending abusive emails, posting threatening or hurtful messages, pictures or videos online, or repeatedly sending unwanted messages.

They would also provide a basis for victims of cyberbullying to apply for Apprehended Violence Orders, Mr Speakman said.

The laws will also apply to juvenile offenders, but Mr Speakman said incarceration would apply “only in the most extreme circumstances”.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller agreed.

“We don’t go into classrooms and arrest people for the highs and lows of being in the playground obviously,” he said, adding that a “criminal threshold” would still need to apply.

Commissioner Fuller said the changes would give victims more confidence to come forward with concrete evidence.

“Hopefully that’s motivation…that the victims will save as much evidence as they can on their computers and phones and they can feel confident coming into police stations now knowing there is legislation to support them, the police force is there to support them.”

Cyberbullying ‘inescapable’

The law changes follow the high-profile death of 14-year-old schoolgirl Amy “Dolly” Everett who took her own life in January after she was tormented by relentless online bullying.

Following Dolly’s death, the Everett family launched a social media campaign to raise awareness of bullying and harassment.

Her parents Tick and Kate Everett said they looked forward to talking to the government about the proposed amendments and wanted the issue to be taken seriously.

“No one should be abused or feel unsafe online,” Dolly’s parents said in a statement.

“We need to educate everyone about how important it is to treat each other with respect.

“Laws about respect can have an impact if they are part of broader community education, standards and behaviour change.”

Domestic violence NSW chief executive Moo Baulch welcomed the changes and said up to 98 per cent of family and domestic violence victims have experienced online abuse.

“It’s a devastating crime and it’s also something…that follows people into their homes,” Mr Baulch said.

“It can feel almost inescapable when you’re being stalked, bullied and harassed online.”

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