Parents accuse police of providing unhelpful advice as hacker targets children’s pictures
Parents in Sussex are fighting back against an internet user who has been adding obscene, offensive and sexual messages to pictures of their children stolen from Facebook.
The Facebook user – who has appeared on the site under a variety of names such as Jamie Carruthers – attained administrator rights to a number of Facebook Groups (closed communities only accessible by invitation).
He began posting images of dead cats on Group pages, and those who complained were targeted in an unpleasant way. ‘Carruthers’ copied pictures of their children and reposted them with offensive and distressing captions.
Computeractive contacted some affected Facebook members after a reader got in touch with us. One mother, Blue Stevenson, told us that she had received threatening messages from Carruthers, saying he wasn’t going to “go away” as what was happening was “funny”. He said he would come to her house to abuse her baby saying: “I’l find u . Because its only facebook” [sic].
Mrs Stevenson said she had reported the matter to Sussex police. In a statement the police said: “Officers have met with the complainants… Facebook users are advised to ensure their profile settings are private and if you see anything that upsets you, report it to Facebook.”
Although the police said they were gathering more information, Mrs Stevenson said the advice they gave was not much help: “My profile is private. Whoever did this hacked into my account.”
Jennifer Perry, director of E-Victims, an advice site for people affected by stalking, said resource issues and a lack of understanding of the law meant police officers often failed to recognise the significance of online threats.
Action is more likely when the target is famous, such as the recent case in which a man who threatened MP Louise Mensch was convicted under the Communications Act 2003 of sending menacing messages.
We alerted the parents’ local MP, Nick Herbert, who has responsibility for policing and criminal justice, to the matter. His office said the parents should contact him. The parents had given us a number of profiles that have been used by ‘Carruthers’ and his fellow trolls. We handed these on to Facebook, which has now removed them.
A Facebook representative said: “We are absolutely clear there is no place for trolling on Facebook. It’s against Facebook’s rules to intimidate or harass others, and we provide everyone with the tools to report such content via specific links across every page of our site.”
What is an internet ‘troll'?
An internet troll is someone who posts inflammatory and sometimes threatening messages in any web community, such as a forum. The motivation is often simply to cause offence or amusement, although in a small but growing number of cases the threats are followed up by police - and not always without controversy:
• June 2012 | Frank Zimmerman received a 26-week prison sentence suspended for two years for sending offensive emails to MP Louise Mensch.
• April 2012 | Noel Edmonds tracked down an internet troll posting abuse about him and his family. He sorted it out without having to resort to the courts.
• March 2012 | Student Liam Stacey was jailed for 56 days for inciting racial hatred for posting abusive remarks on Twitter about footballer Fabrice Muamba.
• September 2011 | Sean Duffy, received an 18-week sentence for posts on social-networking sites about 15-year-old Natasha MacBryde who had committed suicide earlier in the year.
What is the best response to abusive messages on the web?
Jennifer Perry, director of digital-stalking advice website E-Victims, says: "The best thing to do is ignore trolls. The trouble is, while the majority are just bullies and idiots, you don't know how disturbed a person is and the last thing you want to do is antagonise a psychopath."
E-Victims provides specific advice for those who are concerned about abusive messages directed at them on the web at www.e-victims.
What does the law say about abusive behaviour on the web?
There are three laws that can be used to bring criminal prosecutions against internet trolls:
Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it a criminal offence to send "by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character".
The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 makes it a criminal offence to stalk someone both in real life and online.
The Protection Against Harassment Act 1997 and amendment to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 make it a criminal offence to harass another person.
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