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Love Island and the perils of online trolling

Love Island has come to an end and it certainly divided opinion.  For some, the ITV2 reality dating show set in a luxurious villa in Mallorca was one of the highlights of this glorious summer and a welcome alternative to what seemed like endless hours of World Cup football.  For many others, it was the epitome of cheap, turgid, mindless television.

Now that the Islanders are out of the villa, they are no doubt busy exploring commercial revenue streams to maximise their ‘15 minutes of fame’.  One of last year’s winners, Kem Cetinay, is reported to have been paid an estimated £8,600 for each sponsored/advertised post he shared with his two million Instagram followers when he came out of the villa.  There is big money to be made.

There is, however, also a dark side to their new found fame.  It has been reported that two of this year’s contestants have already suffered abuse at the hands of online trolls.  A ‘troll’ is someone who makes deliberately offensive or provocative online posts, usually with the intention of eliciting reactions from others.

Samira Mighty, a musical theatre performer, was attacked ostensibly because she is a young black woman who, when asked what ‘her type’ of man was, said that she prefers men with blue eyes and blonde hair.  As a result, she was excoriated on Twitter as: “an embarrassment that hates being black, I bet your parents are so embarrassed of [sic] you”.  Samira hit back with: “Your words do not hurt me Hun”.  It is to her credit that she was seemingly able to take this abuse in her stride.

In another instance of online abuse on the same day, 2 August 2018, Zara McDermott, a Government Policy Advisor in the Department of Education, was body-shamed by an online troll who suggested: “why not get a boob job to go with all the other plastic?”  Zara also engaged with her abuser: “A disgusting thing to say.  Why wish surgery on someone?  I haven’t got any other ‘plastic’ in my body by the way”.

Both of these episodes demonstrate people on social media deliberately posting provocative or offensive comments with the intention of upsetting the individuals concerned.  Unfortunately, it is the nature of social media that cruel and offensive comments are posted on a daily basis, but it should be borne in mind that online abuse of the most serious nature can amount to a criminal offence.

Under section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988, it is an offence to send an electronic communication which is indecent, grossly offensive, a threat and/or contains information which is known to be false, and is sent for the purpose of causing distress or anxiety to another person.  If convicted, an offender can receive a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment.

Similarly, under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, it is an offence to send an electronic communication which is grossly offensive or is of an indecent, obscene or menacing character, or a message that is known to be false which is sent for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety to another.  This offence carries a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment.

Finally, online abuse and trolling can also amount to harassment (which can give rise to a civil claim, as well as amounting to a criminal offence).  In order to establish a claim for harassment, there must be a course of conduct (two or more acts), which is targeted at the claimant, and is calculated in an objective sense to cause alarm and distress, and which is objectively judged to be oppressive and unacceptable.

A claimant in civil proceedings will often seek an injunction to restrain the harassing conduct.  In addition, however, one of the remedies a claimant can seek in a civil claim (unlike in criminal proceedings) is the payment of compensation for distress, injury to feelings, embarrassment and anxiety and/or any consequential financial loss, as well as payment of their legal costs.

Some people are, perhaps understandably, affronted at the vast sums of money that some of the Islanders are likely to make in the coming weeks and months from endorsements, sponsorship contracts and the like.  However, one thing is clear: online abuse and trolling is not a price that they should be expected to pay in return.

Click here to find out how Brett Wilson LLP's media law solicitors can help you if you have been the subject of online abuse, trolling or harassment. 


Legal Disclaimer

Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.