It Just Got Easier to Convict Your Online Troll in Australia
A guy was convicted for threatening a woman on Facebook. Although he didn't receive any jail time, the verdict is a big win in the fight against internet harassment in Australia.
This article originally appeared on VICE Australia/New Zealand
It's been more than a year since a Facebook fight landed 25-year-old laborer Zane Alchin in front of a judge, charged with "using a carriage service to harass, menace or cause offense." His victim, Paloma Brierley Newton, was in court Friday, July 29, to watch his sentencing.
Facing three years in prison, Alchin escaped jail time with Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court putting him on 12-month probation. "We still had a huge win," Brierley Newton told VICE. "We got a conviction."
In the judgement, Magistrate William Pierce conceded Australia needs better laws around online harassment, explaining the current legislation was designed for angry ex-boyfriends over the phone. However, Brierley Newton told VICE she has serious concerns about how the judge handled the case.
She explained the magistrate went into an extended soccer metaphor, which was lost on her. "He kept saying like, 'In the grand scheme of the big game, Alchin had only made a small indiscretion,'" she said.
Brierley Newton also said Magistrate Pierce had "slut shamed" Olivia Melville, the young woman whose Tinder bio first kicked off the conflict with Alchin. Back in 2015, Alchin commented on a screenshot of Melville's bio, which referenced Drake's lyrics from the track "Only." It read, "Type to wanna suck you dry and then eat some lunch with you."
"[The judge] said she'd made a sexually explicit comment on her Tinder," Brierley Newton said. "That she was a woman of 'low morals' or whatever he wanted suggest with that." According to New Matilda Magistrate Pierce referred to the lyric as "a somewhat inflammatory comment," eliciting gasps from crowd in the court, which also included Melville.
Brierley Newton said it was hard to watch Alchin's lawyer, Sophie Walsh, argue the troll was the real victim in this situation, a position she believes the judge accepted. The court was told Alchin was in counseling, that he'd had to face telling his grandparents about the charges, and his girlfriend had needed to take time off work.
Walsh argued that by going to the media, Brierley Newton was "inciting harassment" towards the 25-year-old man. The judge also told Brierley Newton she'd taken part in a "vast overreaction."
"I think it's the whole intrinsic idea that women are hysterical, emotional... I'm not emotional, I'm angry," Brierley Newtown said, rejecting the judge's criticism. "Alchin got this much attention was because his comments were so disgusting."
From Brierley Newton's perspective, Alchin's comments were explicit rape threats, ranging from, "The best thing about raping a feminist is that they don't get any action so they are 100 times tighter" to "I'd rape you if you were better looking."
However, his lawyer argued that his client had been drinking during the morning of the online battle and his comments weren't serious. "In his mind, he was defending his friend against these feminists," she told the court. "We say he was doing it to be deliberately offensive, there was no truth in his words."
"It's deflating to see that structurally we live in a world where men rape women... but our system doesn't seem to see the kind of incremental damage these attitudes towards women are having," Brierley Newton said in response.
"I think the judge had an opportunity today to make a point about the attitudes women face today, and I don't think he did that."
Brierley Newton said she plans to keep working with the group Sexual Violence Won't Be Silence, which has grown from the small organization that first launched a petition against Alchin.
While Alchin may not have received any jail time, securing a guilty verdict is a significant step for fighting online harassment law in Australia.
"It's not about punishment, it's not about retribution, it's about changes," she said. "We need to keep pushing against it. If you see something, and you don't think it's right, don't just let it slide."
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