I can’t stress enough the depth of the sigh emitted when I read the latest boneheaded scheme from that most duplicitous of schemers, Chris Grayling: manipulating existing laws to ensure online ‘trolling’ would receive a maximum two year prison sentence.

At first I wondered why ‘trolling’ is treated differently than any other stalking and/or threatening or abusive behaviour situation. There’s even a ‘Malicious Communications Act’ to adhere to. But then I realised it was proposed by an MP whose party is about to leave office, trying to make headlines about a hard-line Conservative’s wet dream: punishing the guilty to the full extent of the law.

Like most modern Conservative narratives, the word ‘troll’ is deprived of all nuance, and made into a black-and-white ‘good versus evil’ duel, much like ‘job creation’ and ‘GDP’ are presented as virtuous concepts with no complexity or negative sides whatsoever. Trolling, as far as I am aware, can take any number of forms, and can be as mild as persistent winding up or being facetious.

I also find it bitterly ironic that it’s difficult to tell the difference between how right-wing tabloid newspapers; particularly the Mail, Sun and Express, communicate is wholly different to trolling. Just what is the difference between someone online making a crass reference to someone’s weight, and the Sun describing a celebrity as ‘roly-poly’, for example?

I guess my point about this is that there are already laws in place to protect people who are stalked, harassed or threatened. Is there empirical evidence to suggest that people prosecuted for online hate speech or threats are not deterred from repeat offending on release because of the ‘lenience’ of their sentence? Keeping in mind that only the simple-minded should see the criminal justice system as a tool of retribution, why potentially ruin someone’s chances of decent employment for, say, one occasion of mindless abuse? That said, you only have to go on any social media or video sharing site to realise that if this law were applied across the board we’d need more prisons than hospitals. If someone consistently ‘trolls’, have they been examined for mental illness? We only need to look at the recent news to see that mentally ill people can crack when their inappropriate behaviour is magnified before contextualising the situation.

Death threats, bullying and stalking are always loathsome, and perhaps those guilty of this kind of behaviour online deserve everything they get. But by using the term ‘trolling’, I somehow feel that Chris Grayling is deliberately muddying the waters. When he announces it in the press, he wants his supporters to picture twisted freaks posting about rape and assassination, but the term ‘trolling’ is deliberately ambiguous enough to perhaps include mocking celebrity indiscretions, or more likely, consistently criticising a politician.

For a party that consistently advocates ‘freedom’ for the citizen, the Conservatives sure like to talk up laws that could easily be manipulated to see the Government lock up its adversaries under the guise of ‘protecting the innocent’.


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