Over the past few years, the issue of cyber abuse has started to attract greater attention in the media in Australia. During that time, politicians and the police force have been at a stalemate as to what to do with the problem, with police arguing that they didn’t have the resources to deal with the issue, and politicians arguing that the existing legislation was already in place.
This week, two separate landmark cases that are currently before the NSW criminal courts came one step closer to completion. Both cases have created a level of publicity that has the potential to change the way we look at cyberabuse on social media.
In both cases, the defendant was on trial for having abused their victim on Facebook, and in developments this last week, both defendants have chosen to plead guilty to the charges as laid.
The first defendant was a young man by the name of Zach Alchin, who had come across a Facebook post from a friend who had taken a screenshot of a woman’s tinder profile. The woman, perhaps in poor taste, had chosen to quote the lyrics of a famous hip hop artist under her name: “type of girl who will suck you dry and then eat some lunch with you.”
Zach Alchin came across the post on his Facebook feed, and proceeded to post over 50 abusive comments, including posting the threatening comment: “I’d rape you if you were better looking.”
The second defendant was a man by the name of Chris Nelson, a middle aged chiropractor who made the following derogatory comment amongst others on the Facebook page of Australian Senator Nova Peris:
“You were only endorsed by Julia because you were a black c—t. Go back to the bush and suck on witchity grubs and yams. Stop painting your f—–g face with white s—t in parliament. Other than being a runner you are nothing.”
Given that there is no specific legislation in Australia that deals directly with cyber abuse, the question of course needs to be asked how was it that the police were able to press charges?
In both cases, the NSW police used a little known offence under section 474.17 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code – “using a carriage service to menace, harass, or cause offence”. The offence carries a maximum penalty of 3 years jail, and is proof in itself that police actually have the current capacity to deal with cyber abuse when it comes across out door.
It is for this reason that both cases stand to redefine the way our society views cyber abuse on the internet. For too long now there has been the belief that there is not the existing legislation in place in Australia to bring cyber abusers to justice. Clearly this is not the case.
The extent to which it will have an affect of course rests very much on the severity of the sentence.
Both men are due to be sentenced next month.
This good news on its own does not mean that there is not further work to be done in the area of cyber abuse. The fact is that as a society we cannot rely solely on the courts to deal with this problem. The issue is too overwhelmingly large.
How large? This year, All Rise has been conducting a statistical analysis of comments on Youtube. Early results are suggesting that the level of abuse is as high as 15% of all comments posted.
This problem cannot be combatted by legislation alone, although it is a large piece of the puzzle. Social media platforms have a responsibility, as does the public. This is why All Rise continues to have a multi-pronged strategy to combatting the issue through redefining the nature of cyber abuse, education, legislation, and research.
This week’s positive results are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dealing what is becoming an endemic problem on our digital streets.