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UK online “trolls” face 2 years behind bars

Britain's internet "trolls" found spreading abuse on social media could face up to two years in jail under laws proposed by the U.K.'s justice minister.

The move against what Justice Secretary Chris Grayling described as online "cowards" will see a quadrupling of the current maximum sentence of six months.

"These internet trolls are cowards who are poisoning our national life," Grayling told British newspaper the Mail on Sunday.

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"This is a law to combat cruelty – and marks our determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob. We must send out a clear message: if you troll you risk being behind bars for two years."

'Venom' online

The tougher stance comes after Chloe Madeley, the daughter of popular British TV hosts Judy Finnigan and Richard Madeley, received rape threats online.

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The threats were a response to Finnigan's comments defending soccer player Ched Evans, who has served half of a five-year sentence for raping a woman in a hotel room. Finnigan said Evans should be allowed to go back to work because the rape was "not violent" and "didn't cause any bodily harm" to the 19-year-old woman.

"No one would permit such venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media," Grayling said.

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Currently, trolls who send abusive messages "with intent to cause distress or anxiety", are prosecuted in a magistrates court under the Malicious Communications Act, and face up to 6 months behind bars.

The latest proposals will allow magistrates to transfer the most serious cases to crown courts where offenders could be hit with a 24-month sentence.

Chloe Madeley welcomed the plans and told the Mail on Sunday that the threats amounted to "online terrorism" and should be "illegal".

Earlier this month Grayling also announced a clampdown on so-called "revenge porn" – where spiteful individuals post intimate pictures or videos of their former partner online. The Justice Secretary said people carrying out this act would also face two years in prison.