herald

Saturday 1 October 2016

Internet trolls face €5k fine or year in prison with new bill

Internet trolls face being fined €5,000 or up to a year in jail if found guilty, under a new law being proposed.

Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins, who herself has been the victim of repeated and sustained online abuse, launched the bill at Leinster House.

Under the bill, any electronic communication may be considered "harmful" if it incites or encourages someone to commit suicide or cause serious harm to themselves.

Under the proposed bill, called the Harmful and Malicious Electronic Communications Bill 2015, it will also be an offence simply to send "explicit content" to another person.

The bill also provides scope to prosecute those who "persistently share malicious electronic communications" about somebody else, if it is found to have caused "alarm, distress or harm."

Ms Higgins insisted that she is a passionate defender of the principles of free speech but that children and young adults need protecting.

She said that she has discussed the bill with Communications Minister Alex White and said he is "broadly supportive" of new legislation.

Ms Higgins last month told the Herald about the sort of abusive comments she has been receiving online.

As a result of the vile online abuse, Gardai had to carry out a security sweep on her home.

Senator Higgins received a threatening message on her Facebook page and was forced to make a complaint to gardai given the nature of the abuse.

concerns

She said she felt compelled to report the abuse to the gardai following concerns from her family.

"We met with the member of the gardai who talked us through various vulnerabilities around the house, who suggested we should up our security in the run up in the next general election.

"I'm used to this being part and parcel of public life, but it's difficult for members of my family to take this infringement on their lives, they didn't sign up to politics.

"I didn't realise when I was signing up that this would be part and parcel of the job description."

She said that she believes this particular threat was made after a contribution she made on RTE's Prime Time programme on the jailing of anti-water charge campaigners.

"I think it's plausible to assume the threat resulted from that contribution on Prime Time. It's unfortunate that they're allowed have a position, but I'm not allowed articulate mine.

"I respect everybody's argument against water charges and what not, but I was making a legitimate point," she added.

She said that she has no difficulty with criticism, but that the threats to her personal safety crossed the line.

"I've been called everything from a whore ... told I should have been aborted.

"I had an individual who was attempting to blackmail me, but wouldn't identify what he was attempting to blackmail me about," she said.

Ms Higgins, who is a barrister by profession and is seeking to contest the upcoming general election, has been warned that she is in store for more abuse as the campaign gets underway.

"It is deeply regrettable that this has become part and parcel of political life," she told the Irish Independent.

The abusive message which sparked the complaint called her a "poxy, traitorous, two-faced, money-grabbing, bimbo bitch".

The message sender then threatened to "rip your head from your shoulders" amid various other violent obscenities.

It then calls her a "dumb blonde" before restating the threat to rip her head off.

"The gardai did a security sweep of my parents' home, I suppose they were prioritising my personal safety."

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