Regulating online harassment : is the law fit for the social networking age?
The use of social networking websites, such as Facebook, has escalated in recent years. A consequence of this has been that these communication mediums are being increasingly used to bully and harass other users. This article explores the extent to which existing legislation provides sufficient protection against such activity. There is currently no legislation dealing specifically with online harassment. Although existing legislation, such as the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, can be interpreted so as to cover issues of harassment over the Internet, such legislation was not drafted with the Internet in mind. In light of this, the extent to which this Act can offer effective protection against online harassment can be questioned. While other statutory provisions, such as s. 127 of the Communications Act 2003 and s. 1(1) of the Malicious Communications Act 1988, do expressly take account of modern electronic mediums, both have limitations. This article evaluates the rationale behind criminalising various forms of online conduct and argues that the current overall legislative framework is inaccessible, uncertain and thus inadequate to encompass activities in today's evolving age of online social networking. Consequently, the time has come for reform to ensure that the law balances the need to protect individual well-being with the need to safeguard against fictitious and vindictive allegations.