A topic that always comes up in the press – since the rise of social media – is the ease, ability and overall willingness by people to publish whatever they are feeling. Social media sites are a forum that people can share their lives and thoughts, and in some cases make comments that they might not do in other circumstances.
Recent examples of some of the extreme behaviours online include –
- Threats to the daughters of Bulldogs player Ben Barba after he stated that he wanted to be closer to his family in Queensland next year;
- Cyber bullying against adults, including threats of death and sexual assault;
- Boy committing suicide after being lured into web cam chats and then having the footage used as blackmail against him; and
- A mother who harassed children at her child’s school because she was angry at the alleged bullying of her child.
A common occurrence in recent times is when people, feel passionate about being wronged or annoyed at certain groups of people, choose to create forums attacking individual(s). For instance, creation of a Facebook page intended as humour seen as promoting violence and/or stalking towards a person.
Natasha Shorter, an experienced criminal lawyer and team leader for the criminal law team at Quinn & Scattini Lawyers, explains the risks associated with publishing content online before thinking.
“I find quite often someone might be angry towards another person and because of the perceived anonymity and/or ease of being able to publish online they conduct themselves in a way that they might not in person.
“It is quite possible for a person to be charged with the offence of Using a Carriage Service to Menace or Harass and/or the offence of stalking if they do not treat online social media like any other form of communication. It is so important that people do not repeatedly insult with menacing comments or create new accounts if they are blocked by a person after having been asked to cease contact.
“Depending on the circumstances and the severity of the threats and the result of their behaviour – including if they contribute to the injury or death of a person – the likely outcomes and penalties a defendant may face ranges from a good behaviour bond (with no conviction) right up to receiving periods of actual incarceration.
“Additional consequences can also stem from inappropriate online behaviour. For example, stalking charges often result in restraining orders being imposed when the court considers it necessary.
“The court also has discretion to award compensation to the victim which then needs to be paid by the defendant as part of their punishment.
“Domestic violence orders can also be obtained. Such an order can be very restrictive, requiring the Respondent to stay away from the victim and areas they may frequent. Orders can also impact upon a persons employment or social life as a standard requirement of a domestic violence order is that a Respondent is prohibited from holding a weapons license or owning weapons at all. These orders generally remain in place for 2 years.
Whilst these orders are initially a civil matter the consequences of breaching an order can be serious. If the behaviour continues criminal charges are usually laid, which again can result in harsh penalties and a criminal record.”
Those that feel they are a victim of menacing behaviour online should consider –
- Blocking the person harassing;
- Reporting to the site administrator;
- Turning off their profile for a period of time;
- Collect screen shots and/or retain any other communication as evidence; and
- When necessary report the harassment.
Individual(s) who feel they have been wronged and/or angered by the conduct of a person should avoid repeated unwanted communication with that individual. The consequence of being found guilty could result in potential fines, convictions and worse incarceration. All of which can have long term impact on employability and/or reputation of your business.