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‘Trolling’ victim backs libel reform

First published in News

A FORMER councillor has welcomed major reforms of libel laws that he believes could prevent people like him becoming the victims of online abuse campaigns.

Stuart Lever, a former Conservative Astley Bridge councillor, claims his reputation was permanently damaged after he was abused on blog sites.

Now the Ministry of Justice is proposing a defamation bill which will make it easier for people to challenge what has been written about them.

Under current laws, it would usually incur huge costs for the victim of internet abuse to take legal action against the operator to remove the defamatory material.

If the new laws come into force, a complainant would be able to ask the website operator to give them the name of the person who posted the remarks.

This way, they can take legal action against the author of the defamatory material directly.

Mr Lever said: “The proposed changes to the law will affect me because I have been bombarded with abuse online for years and there is nothing I can do at the moment.

“But if the new law gets passed, trolling will be illegal and I’ll be straight down that police station to report it as a criminal offence.”

The term trolling, in internet parlance, refers to people who intentionally post provocative material online to cause mischief, bait people and incite angry responses.

This can happen in online forums, message boards, chat rooms, and on social networks and blogging sites, as well as in personal e-mails. Mr Lever added: “The new law would take away my need to launch a civil case.

“At the minute, even if I won such a case, I would be the one who has to pay and it’s just not worth it.

“Also, online operators like Facebook and Hotmail are very reluctant to get involved and identify the trolls, but under the new law they will have to co-operate.”

Justice secretary Ken Clarke said: “The Government wants a libel regime for the internet that makes it possible for people to protect their reputations effectively but also ensures that information online can’t be easily censored by casual threats of litigation against website operators.”

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