Yes, trolling can be a crime: Facebook harasser faces up to 3 years in prison after targeting women

An Australian man pleads guilty after finding himself shocked to be charged after issuing rape threats online

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published June 20, 2016 3:30PM (EDT)

  (<a href=''>GenNealPhoto</a> via <a href=''>iStock</a>)
(GenNealPhoto via iStock)

When Paloma Brierley Newton warned that she was going to report his behavior to the police, Zane Alchin wanted to know, "What law am I breaking?" Unaware of how the legal system works, he added, "I’m not the one out of the f__king kitchen." Turns out, that law would be the one where you're not supposed to threaten to rape people. Attorneys for the 25-year-old Australian man said Monday he would plead guilty to "using a carriage service to menace, harass, or cause offense." He now faces up to three years in prison.

The story began last summer, when a different man, Chris Hall, posted a screenshot of a woman's Tinder profile that included a raunchy Drake lyric, with a disparaging "Stay classy ladies." The woman then shared the post among her friends, and Hall was soon fired from his job for violating its social media policy. Predictably, this was when the full force of entitled baby-man rage then turned on the woman and her friends — or, as Alchin called them, "f__king basic sluts."

Alchin continued to go on a tear, saying, "It’s people like you who make it clear women should never have been given rights…. I’d rape you if you were better looking." He also asserted that "You know the best thing about a feminist they don’t get any action so when you rape them it feels 100 times tighter" and "You’ll be eating my c__k till you puke." He later claimed he had been drunk at the time of his posts and that they didn't "represent him as a person." He further argued that he was only trying "to offend a group of feminists that were harassing me and my friends," and that -- and this is the best part -- he was unaware his actions were a crime.

Let's unpack that one. If a man were to approach a woman on the street and tell her, "You’ll be eating my c__k till you puke," would you assume he was threatening and harassing her? Yet for some reason, a large segment of the online dirtbag community doesn't recognize that this is also unacceptable on the Internet. Of course, a large part of the problem is that too often, there are no consequences for just this sort of thing. Last year in the U.S., Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark called upon the Department of Justice to "prioritize investigations and prosecutions of cyber abuse crimes targeting women," citing how the women involved in the Gamergate controversy "have been repeatedly subjected to explicit threats of rape and murder, their personal information has been disclosed, and several have been forced to flee their homes and cancel public events." And she noted that "Although protections against violent online threats already exist, enforcement is drastically lagging."

It's the same all over the world — we've somehow managed to create a culture where "I'm going to rape you" is a common default response to the presence of women and girls in the world. Yet the more women who come forward and push back, the more the accountability there will be. Ms. Brierley Newton, who saved screenshots of the abuse and filed that police report, said officers "initially offered little support." But now, as the founder of the advocacy group Sexual Violence Won’t Be Silenced, she said on Monday that "Our victory today sends a message to all women that they don’t have to put up with harassment online, that there are steps and channels they can take, and that Australian law is on their side… "I think that, by standing up and saying that he is guilty of a crime, it can put an end to all the backlash of, 'This is just the internet, this isn't a crime.'" She added, "Pleading guilty’s one thing but actually admitting that you’ve done the wrong thing, as opposed to realizing you can’t get out of what you’ve done – I want to hear him say that he is sorry for what he said, rather than he’s sorry that he got caught."

Alchin will be sentenced next month. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that as he left court Monday, he covered his face with a jacket, while a man accompanying him, dismayed at the crowd of reporters surrounding Alchin, told the journalists —with no apparent sense of irony — "This is harassment."

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Australia Online Harassment Paloma Brierley Newton Tinder Zane Alchin