Trolling our way to national security

Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph features a call to action — an Internet petition to stop trolling (the media definition of any offensive or deliberately hurtful behaviour online, not the traditional definition). This is both terrible journalism and falling for a trap.

In the last couple of weeks offensive online behaviour has taken a bit of limelight. First Charlotte Dawson, a host of a reality TV show, was hospitalised seemingly because she was driven to harm herself by a round of online abuse. A few days later rugby league player Robbie Farah was also abused online with taunters targeting the fact he recently lost his mother to cancer. Classy.

In the wake of the Farah incident NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell publicised that he’d be talking to the Australian Federal Police, which is odd – I was unsure why a premier needs to intervene. I started to become nervous when I saw the Prime Minister had arranged a meeting with Farah to ostensibly discuss what can be done about the trolls.

The bottom line of course is that nothing can be done. Or rather that it’s already been done. Subjecting someone to an outpouring of abuse on Twitter is an offence under S474.17 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 – a law which was originally designed to prohibit nuisance phone calls by regulating behaviour on “a carriage service”.

Later law and definitions include the Internet as a carriage service so the three year holiday in Long Bay available to anybody who makes offensively harassing and threatening calls is also available to anyone who mounts a Facebook campaign. At the state level there’s also various pieces of legislation, typically designed to prohibit stalking, that make that behaviour illegal. Courts can and have made orders that people not contact other people online or use services that would enable them to do so as a result of them not being able to do it lawfully and civilly — via

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