Internet trolls who set up fake profiles in the name of their victims to post damaging or embarrassing material can face criminal charges, according to new advice for British prosecutors.
Social media guidelines are being updated by the Crown Prosecution Service to cover cases where offenders create false online accounts and websites.
The CPS said: “For example, it may be a criminal offence if a profile is created under the name of the victim with fake information uploaded which, if believed, could damage their reputation and humiliate them.
“In some cases the information could then be shared in such a way that it appears as though the victim has themselves made the statements.”
Such conduct could amount to an offence such as grossly offensive communication or harassment.
Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said: “Offenders can mistakenly think that by using false online profiles and creating websites under a false name their offences are untraceable.
“Thankfully this is not the case and an online footprint will be left by the offender.”
Social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook have facilities to report impersonation accounts.
Twitter’s help centre says impersonation is a violation of its rules, adding accounts portraying another person “in a confusing or deceptive manner” may be permanently suspended.
Parody, commentary, or fan accounts are allowed on the microblogging site.
Facebook’s help centre says “impostor accounts” are not allowed.
The CPS is today launching a six-week public consultation on proposed revisions to the guidelines, which will also be updated to incorporate two new offences created since they were published in 2012.
Revenge pornography, predominantly carried out online, was the subject of a new law introduced in April 2015.
Legislation introduced in December created the offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour” in intimate or family relationships.
It means domestic abusers who control their victims through social media accounts or spy on them online could face up to five years in prison.