After years of inaction against those who use social media to abuse, threaten and humiliate people, the law is finally being used to strike back. There has been a flurry of court cases taken against perpetrators, and they are being convicted.
Anneka Frayne, solicitor with Stacks Law Firm, has long advocated using the law to fight back against online abusers.
Three in five Australian adults say they have been the target of online abuse, and even though it' s a tiny fraction of the abuse, the number of people charged for "using a carriage service to menace, harass or offend" has doubled in the past five years.
Fairfax Media reported that last year 1,585 charges were laid for online abuse resulting in 1,111 convictions. The most common punishment was a $700 fine, far less than the maximum penalty of three years. But Ms Frayne says the law is closing in on the abusers.
"A woman whose former husband posted a vicious attack on her on Facebook recently won $10,000 in defamation damages against him in a Queensland court. He had posted she was a ' thieving, lying, money-crazed bitch'. The magistrate found her reputation had been damaged by the post, and dismissed his claim he didn' t mean it be public.
"It was an important legal result. It shows that it' s worth seeking help through the law to fight back against those who use social media to hurt, denigrate, humiliate and threaten people."
In Sydney a man who unleashed a stream of abuse on Facebook against a woman he didn' t even know was recently found guilty, and faces a criminal sentence.
A Central Coast man recently pleaded guilty to posting racist and offensive messages on the Facebook page of Aboriginal Olympian and former Senator Nova Peris.
A Sydney woman who threatened online to kill a Muslim lawyer and her family was fined $1,000.
"The penalties might fall short, but they are important results for those using the law to fight back against online trolls who target and abuse people," Ms Frayne said.
A United Nations study found anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic abuse were the most common, followed by misogynistic and homophobic abuse.
"No one should have to put up with harassment or bullying, whether it be in the workplace, the street or on the Internet. We' ve seen too many lives being damaged by this," Ms Frayne said.
"There are laws available to fight back, and anyone who feels they are a victim of this type of abuse should seek expert legal advice on the best way to pursue legal action against the abuser."
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