Facebook Safety Check Brussels
Facebook has activated its Safety Check tool for those in Brussels who want to tell family and friends they are OK. Reuters/Dado Ruvic

In a move aimed at clamping down on revenge pornography, British authorities released amended guidelines Thursday for prosecutors in England and Wales. The draft guidelines seek to make it a criminal offense to set up fake social media profiles in the name of victims to post damaging or embarrassing material online.

“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,” the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) — the main public prosecuting agency in England and Wales — reportedly said in a statement explaining the draft guidelines. “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.”

If the guidelines are adopted, such conduct could amount to an offence if the creators of the fake accounts use them to harass others and post indecent, grossly offensive or false information.

“Online abuse is cowardly and can be deeply upsetting to the victim,” Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, told the BBC. “The new guidelines make it very clear that when someone has used someone else’s identity and then posted (offensive) pictures then we should be prosecuting under the revenge pornography offences, which were new last year.”

The draft guidelines are open for consultation for six weeks and are expected to be adopted later this year, according to media reports.

Revenge pornography refers to the practice of sharing sexually explicit images or videos of former partners without their consent. In recent years, several countries have passed laws tailored to curb the practice and provide redressal to victims.

Social media giants Facebook and Twitter, which are believed to have tens of millions of fake accounts, also have provisions to report these “imposter accounts.” Additionally, CPS officials also said Thursday that Twitter had agreed to train prosecutors in England and Wales to better fight online abuse.

“We all use social media all the time, it a fantastic tool. What we don’t want to do is do anything that has a chilling effect on free speech. But where it is used for crime, and where it is seriously impacting people’s lives, that’s where we do need to look at it and look at whether we have the evidence to prosecute,” Saunders reportedly said.