From now on, online hate crimes will be treated as seriously as face-to-face abuse by prosecutors in England and Wales.
Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidance to prosecutors has been revised to acknowledge what people who have experienced online hate crime already know: it can be every bit as "devastating" as IRL abuse.
Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said the new CPS guidance is a response to recent events in Charlottesville in the US, where online hate led to violent extremist hate on the streets.
"Left unchallenged, even low-level offending can subsequently fuel the kind of dangerous hostility that has been plastered across our media in recent days. That is why countering it is a priority for the CPS," Saunders wrote in The Guardian. "Whether shouted in their face on the street, daubed on their wall or tweeted into their living room, the impact of hateful abuse on a victim can be equally devastating."
The CPS's guidance has been updated to reflect the growing number of online hate crimes committed on social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. These updates cover all strands of hate crime: religious, racist, and disability-based, as well as homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic.
The new guidance has been welcomed by Labour MP Luciana Berger, who said she has been on the receiving end of online abuse including anti-Semitic statements, violent statements and pornographic messages.
"I happen to be resilient, I’m fortunate that I have a strong support network. As a member of parliament I have a voice," Berger said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "But there are plenty of people that may not have any of those things and we need to treat all victims of crime, whether it’s online or offline, in exactly the same way and that’s why I welcome what the CPS are saying today."