digital bullying & UK law

BBC News Online reports that "one in five young people has been bullied by mobile phone or via the internet."

"Children’s charity NCH surveyed 770 youngsters and found 14% of 11- to 19-year-olds had been threatened or harassed using text messages. Bullies had used images taken with mobile phone cameras to intimidate or embarrass one in 10 young people."

The Prevention of Harrassment Act 1997 makes it illegal in the UK for someone to:

"pursue a course of conduct
(a) which amounts to harassment of another, and
(b) which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other."

A "course of conduct" has generally been understood by the courts as meaning two or more incidents.

Under section 43 of the Malicious Communications Act 1998 it’s an offence to send an indecent, offensive or threatening letter or electronic communication to another person.

There’s no reason why those being harrassed or otherwise subjected to offensive or threatening messages sent via the internet, mobile phone, or other methods of digital communication shouldn’t report it to the police. However, I’ve heard from a number of online community managers that when their community members have reported this type of malicious behaviour, often times the police brush it aside as being "only email". When that happens, victims should try to get help through the solicitors at their local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Regardless of the mode of communication, it’s obviously illegal to harrass someone or send them threating messages, but I’m left wondering what, if any, legal duty could be imposed upon those providing online community services to report such behaviour to the police.

[Please Note: I’m have no formal legal credentials or qualifications. The above is provided for information purposes only. You should not act upon this information, or use it as advice, without first speaking with a qualified solicitor.]

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