Call It Out - What to do if you are a victim of cyberbullying according to West Yorkshire Police
Receiving online abuse can have a devastating impact on people's mental and physical wellbeing but it is not always clear who to turn to to get help.
As part of the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Call It Out campaign, we have called on social media platforms to take accountability seriously and Halifax MP Holly Lynch has now raised the matter in Parliament.
Prominent figures in the city have spoken out as part of the campaign, including Labour Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel who experienced antisemtic abuse after making a speech about the Holocaust, Andrea Jenkyns, Conservative MP for Morley and Outwood who no longer feels safe taking her child to events after receiving rape and death threats online and DJ Tom Zanetti who revealed he has had messages saying "hope your son dies of cancer" simply because he had shared a social media post of his new haircut.
But what can people do when they experience this kind of abuse? And when does it cross a line and become a crime?
Victims of online abuse are not always victims of a crime due to freedom of speech laws.
Depending on the nature of the abuse and the relationship with the abuser, some cases may constitute a criminal offence such as harassment, but the incidents have to meet specific legal criteria.
Due to this, West Yorkshire Police and other forces across the country, take a preventative approach to tackling online abuse.
Chief Inspector Mark Gaunt, of West Yorkshire Police, said: “Online bullying and cyber-bullying can cause victims misery and upset and research suggests one in five teenagers have been cyber bullied.
“Many different, and serious, crime types can be committed online, including Malicious Communications, stalking, harassment, and fraud. Sometimes they are motivated by hate which further aggravates the offence.
“We do a lot of engagement in our communities in regards to online safety.
“We touch on a variety of subject areas including cyber bullying, sexting, ‘thinking before you post’ and general cyber hygiene.”
A lot of the preventative work is done with young people in schools alongside charities such as the NSPCC to raise awareness about cyber bullying, ‘sexting’ and staying safe online.
PCSOs and Crime Prevention Officers also engage with parents, provide training for teachers and work alongside agencies to support people with disabilities or anyone who may face difficulties staying safe online.
However, if online abuse continues or becomes more serious, the police are able and willing to act.
Chief Insp Gaunt said: “If people are targeted, we would advise them to take screenshots of posts and talk to someone you trust.
“If the cyber bullying occurs on a social networking site or app, you can report the incidents directly to the site in question.
“We would encourage anyone who has been a victim of cyber bullying to block or delete the bully and report it to the appropriate website provider.
“However, when the abuse becomes more serious, perhaps repeated and distressing, grossly offensive, indecent or seeks to take money from you, it’s time to get in touch.
“People can do this through the Webchat facility, Online reporting platform or by phone.
“We will then offer you advice, and assess what has happened against our guidance and legislation. Where there is evidence a crime has been committed, we will record one and take further action as needed.”
Is it a crime?
The most relevant laws to protect online abuse are the Malicious Communication Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003.
People could also be prosecuted under ‘harassment’ laws.
However, legally for harassment to be committed there must have been a clear 'course of conduct', which means two or more related incidents must have occured.
If there has only been a single communication, it’s unlikely it would qualify as harassment, but could be considered a malicious communication, according to the Metropolitan Police.
For such an offence to be committed, a message must be sent to another person, or sent via a public communications network, that is indecent, grossly offensive, obscene, threatening or menacing.
Sharing private sexual images online without consent is known as ‘revenge porn’.
This is a criminal offence under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 and perpetrators can be sent to prison.
After making a report to the police, The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will be responsible for deciding whether to charge someone with a criminal act.
They will firstly decide if there is sufficient evidence for a conviction or secondly consider whether the conviction would be in the public interest.
The CPS has specific guidelines regarding Hate Crime and the prosecution of racism, disability hate crime, homophobic and transphobic hate crime, and crimes against older people.
The Yorkshire Evening Post's Call It Out campaign is sharing real life experiences of abusive online behaviour and asking our readers to help play their part in reporting it to account admins, social media platforms and, where needed, the police.