Written by Joanna Hughes

The internet era has changed how we communicate. While there are numerous upsides to advancement, the UK's Law Commission recently highlighted a troubling issue: inadequate laws governing online communications, resulting rampant harassment and abuse. In response, the organization has released a report calling for reform of laws dealing with these issues. Here’s a closer look at the situation, as reported by The Guardian.

The Online Abuse Epidemic

The rise in social media usage and other forms of digital communication is leading to increases in “offensive and abusive communications.” However, online communications law remains in the dark ages.

Law commissioner for criminal law Professor David Ormerod QC says, “As the internet and social media have become an everyday part of our lives, online abuse has become commonplace for many. Our report highlights the ways in which the criminal law is not keeping pace with these technological changes.”

“Online abuse is like domestic abuse in the 1980s. People used to say it was just something that happened. Police didn’t step in on disputes between husband and wife, but every part of society changed when prosecutions started being brought,” added another contributor to the report.

Specifically, police and prosecutors are struggling with insufficient legal clarity when responding to offenses, according to the Law Commission report. Other issues identified by the study in need of resolution include “pile on” abuse, online personal privacy protection, and “deepfake” pornography.

A Call for Change

According to the Home Office, just three percent of malicious communications offenses go on to be prosecuted, despite the fact that they can cause serious emotional harm to their victims. To that end, the Law Commission suggests the threshold for determining which communications are offensive needs review.

Responding to the report, digital minister Margot James said, “Behavior that is illegal offline should be treated the same when it is committed online. We have listened to victims of online abuse as it’s important that the right legal protections are in place to meet the challenges of new technology.”

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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