Guilty plea in Facebook harassment case

A Sydney man has plead guilty in a Facebook harassment case that may be a test for how the law deals with abuse online, writes Jack Moran.

The way the law sees harassment and abuse online could be changing, if the unfolding of a recent court case is anything to go by. On Monday Zane Alchin, a 25 year old from Sydney, plead guilty to sending sexually violent threats to a woman over Facebook.

It all started last year when a friend of Mr Alchin’s shared Olivia Melville’s Tinder profile last August. In her Tinder bio Ms Melville used a Drake lyric to describe herself and Mr Alchin’s friend, Chris Hall, posted a screenshot of the profile on Facebook with a comment that many describe as slut-shaming.

Ms Melville was then confronted online with many abusive comments being made on the post and sent to her directly. In an interview with ABC earlier this week, Ms Melville said that she had received attacks from strangers about her weight and her sexual activity while also receiving rape threats.

Mr Alchin was one of these commenters, sending out threats and insults to both Ms Melville and the friends that came to her defence over the post. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, court documents state that in January, Mr Alchin plead not guilty to the charge against him and said that he did not know the internet trolling was a crime. He also said that when he posted the comments, he was drunk.

Specifically, Mr Alchin has been charged with using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence, an offence under the criminal code that has a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment. The offence has been typically used to punish harassment over phone call or text message, such as when a Melbourne man was charged with sending death threats to Triple J last year, but is increasingly being applied to cases such as Mr Alchin’s. A Central Coast chiropractor, for example, also plead guilty this month to the same charge over racist Facebook posts written about Senator Nova Peris.

Sexual Violence Won’t Be Silenced (SVWBS), an advocacy group that friends of Ms Melville started, said in a Facebook post that they were “extremely pleased” that Mr Alchin plead guilty and that it demonstrates “there is a precedent in Australian law that says this behaviour is unacceptable”. In an interview with Channel Ten’s The Project on Tuesday night, however, SVWBS founder Paloma Brierley Newton did say that initially she was told by police that there was not a lot they could do about it.

While Mr Alchin won’t be sentenced until late July, the media and legal exposure on the case has made a powerful statement on how we should be dealing with threats and harassment made against women online in the future.

Feature Image: Thomas Lefebvre, Unsplash, no changes made.

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