How to Tackle 21st Century Trolls

8th November 2021 Business Crime

In a modern world seemingly dominated by social media, the threat of racial or discriminatory abuse online has come to the forefront of our social discourse and political agenda. But while there is a move towards increasing protection from online abuse, such as the publication of the Online Safety Bill on 12 May 2021, there is still a lot more that needs to be done to tackle the problem.

The pressing need for further action is most noticeably demonstrated by the numbers of high-profile sportspeople who have been the victims of racist trolls.

Take the England football team this summer. Despite the team making history and making our country proud during the Euros 2020, the Three Young Lions, Rashford, Sancho and Sako received a wave of racist and hateful comments online following their missed penalties in the unlucky defeat against Italy.

According to the UK Football Policing Unit, 600 reports of racist comments were received in relation to the Euros. 207 of these were considered to be criminal; 123 being posted from international accounts and 34 from British accounts, leading to 11 arrests across the country.

However, the footballers involved have used their platform to highlight the issue and to campaign against racism and online abuse. Most recently we have seen retired players now working in media, such as Jermaine Jenas and Thierry Henry, giving interviews in which they have raised the issue and, by bringing the attention of the country down on racist trolls, the weight of public opinion is shifting against those who abuse people online and the tech companies who seemingly do little to stop it.

Only last week, Wilfried Zaha, the Crystal Palace player, suffered racist abuse online and he publicly called on Instagram to start taking the issue seriously.

What can be done?

Unfortunately, Police resources and expertise in this area are stretched and there is a vast amount of pressure on police forces to tackle other higher priority crimes. This is part of the reason why prosecution numbers are low, despite the prevalence of abusive content.

However, where these types of cases do reach the courts, which is unfortunately only in the minority of cases, then generally they are treated incredibly seriously. Last week we saw a man jailed for 8 weeks for abusing Romaine Sawyers, the West Brom player, and just last Friday, we saw a similar sentence passed in the highly publicised case of Nathan Blagg.

Blagg, a 21-year-old Chelsea fan from Retford in Nottinghamshire, was sentenced on Friday at Westminster Magistrates’ Court to 8 weeks imprisonment for posting “despicable” anti-Semitic tweets aimed at Tottenham supporters in the run up to matches between the two clubs. Due to the tweets being racially aggravated, targeting Spurs fans in particular due to the Jewish community around the club, Blagg’s sentence was increased by 3 weeks. District Judge Michael Hamilton rejected the suggestion Blagg made to the police that the tweets were merely ‘banter between mates’ and felt that only an immediate sentence would be appropriate. One of Blagg’s tweets read, “can’t beat days like this, can be as horrible as I like and not be judged it’s mint”. As Friday’s sentence shows however, when racially aggravated abuse comes before the courts, the punishment is normally severe.

It has been suggested that an important way to fight the apparent rise in this type of offence is to increase the number of prosecutions, in order to deter those that feel they can make abhorrent comments online with no repercussions. At JMW we can act privately for individuals to investigate and prosecute online offenders within the criminal courts. For more information on how JMW can assist victims of online trolls, watch this video.

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Daniel Martin is a Partner located in London in our Business Crime & Regulation department

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Paige Franks is a Trainee Solicitor located in Londonin our Trainee Solicitors department

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