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Threats And Harassment Online Are Crimes

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Thursday June 20, 2013 )

Forum debates can often degrade into slinging matches – and worse.I’m a member of a forum that can get a little rough and tumble at times. Aside from that, it’s a very useful resource – I just stay clear of getting involved in what can become heated arguments. The early warning signals are usually easy to spot.

Last night, a member posted what could be considered a threat against another. It may have just been keyboard warrior stuff fueled by beer, but that member was banned fairly quickly, the thread deleted and rightly so. Actually, the moderators did the guilty party a favour.

What many people don’t realise is that threatening or harassing someone online isn’t just repugnant; in Australia and other countries it’s a crime.

I wasn’t sure what section of Australia’s crime code it fell under until someone posted it today.

Section 474.17 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) is “Use Carriage Service to Menace Harass or Cause Offence”; which states:

(1)  A person is guilty of an offence if:

(a)  the person uses a carriage service; and

(b)  the person does so in a way (whether by the method of use or the content of a communication, or both) that reasonable persons would regard as being, in all the circumstances, menacing, harassing or offensive.

The penalty can be quite harsh – imprisonment for up to 3 years. Bear in mind, it doesn’t have to be a death threat to fall under this section of the code.

The reason I raise this is that there is still way too much foul behaviour occurring on forums generally and in blog comment threads. Perhaps if members and mods are pointed to the laws concerning this, folks may think a little more before they hit the submit button and forum admins may tolerate less bad behaviour.

Sometimes moderation is avoided through fear of a mass exodus of members. It’s been my experience this does not happen. Sure, some will kick up about “censorship” and related “freedom of speech” crap (while not understanding that it doesn’t mean freedom from responsibility), but to me, it’s good riddance to bad rubbish if they choose to leave.

However, if this is a real fear, then mods and admins can point to the law and state they are protecting all parties in their action (even though the guilty party doesn’t deserve protection in my opinion).


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