IT is hard to accept that the internet, from which we derive so much benefit, should be so densely populated by individuals (‘trolls’) who deliberately pursue the causation of grief, harm and damage to people they do not know.

Every legal system deals differently with online haters. Those perceived as full or pseudo dictatorships will repress political dissent whereas modern democracies will give prevalence to freedom of speech and expression over censure.

The latter group of countries also differs over when the state will intervene, as opposed to giving those aggrieved the legal initiative to press charges in court.

Spain is probably one of the most flexible with trolls. The Policia Nacional’s mode of action with trolls is a) ignore, b) block and c) report if it is a crime. They have missed d), which should be file a suit for defamation or libel. 

But when is it a crime? Unlike other countries such as the UK, where trolls can be given custodial sentences for sending malicious communications, Spain only considers a post or comment publicly criminal if it involved threats, extorsion or specifically fall within the ‘hate crime’ category, which necessarily needs to involve one of the following: racism and xenophobia, bias against religions or beliefs, sexual orientation or gender identity or people with disabilities. 

One painful example can be found in Camilo de Ory, who was acquitted of hate crime by the Madrid Appeal Court despite posting numerous sick and degrading comments – black humour according to his code of ethics – mocking the death of Julen Rosello, who fell to his death in a well in Totalan, Malaga. 

Still, it is possible to file a private claim for libel and defamation, and custodial sentences can be handed down if a defendant is found guilty of ‘calumny’, falsely accusing someone of committing an act defined as a crime, with the knowledge that it was untrue or with reckless disregard for the truth, in particular through the media.

The sentencing typically comes with a monetary award for damages.  

Outside the above hate crime or calumny, those offended can file civil suits where they can seek compensation as well as the removal of the comments and public rectification.

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