In Brief

Social media abuse to be treated like offline hate crimes

The Crown Prosecution Service will target internet trolls with new online rules

Abuse on social media will soon carry the same penalties as offline offences under new hate crime rules announced by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Writing in The Guardian, Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders said the CPS will in future seek stiffer penalties for abuse on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.

Citing last week's far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left one woman dead, Saunders said countering online abuse was a priority because, "left unchallenged, even low-level offending can subsequently fuel the kind of dangerous hostility that has been plastered across our media in recent days".

"Whether shouted in their face on the street, daubed on their wall or tweeted into their living room, the impact of hateful abuse on a victim can be equally devastating," she added.

The new policy covers abuse based on race, religion and physical disability - as well as homophobic, transphobic and biphobic hate crimes.  

The plans "are meant to encourage more people to come forward and press courts to impose longer sentences", says Reuters, after a series of high-profile instances of successful successful prosecutions of people who had abused lawmakers and other public figures online.

According to the CPS, 15,442 hate crime prosecutions were completed last year, the highest on record, with a conviction rate of 82.2 per cent.

However, official figures also show a 20 per cent rise in all forms of hate crime reported to the police in the first three months of the year. Commentators have pointed to the divisive nature of last year's EU referendum, and this year's terror attacks in London and Manchester, as factors in the surge in hate crime.

This has led to action in other areas of the criminal justice system. "Senior figures are working on updating laws and policies to reflect the fact that offending online has increased not just in volume, but the damage it can do by inciting people to carry out violent acts," says The Guardian.

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