Guide to appropriate trolling laws for specific offences

In research in the International Review of Law, Computers and Technology, trolling expert Jonathan Bishop proposes the following framework for determining which laws to use for generic flame trolling offences where no dedicated law exists whereby if the same offence was committed offline it could be prosecuted under other laws. The framework, which is based on a through assessment of UK laws in relation to trolling, cyber-criminality studies of trolling, as well as considering the social media guidelines of the UK’s public prosecutor, the scale provides a means for acts of Internet trolling to be dealt with proportionally.


Potential Gravity


CPS score

Appropriate legal provision

TM1 – Playtime

In the moment and quickly regret

(finem facere)

Grossly Offensive, Indecent, Obscene or Menacing

(TM 1.00-1.49)


Fixed penalty notice of £75

(TM 1.50-1.99)


Fixed Penalty Notice of £150

TM2 Tactical

In the moment but don’t regret and continue

(animus restituendi)

Harassment, Alarm or Distress



Common law detention for breach of the peace as permitted by s.40(1) of the Public Order Act 1986




ASBO under s.1 the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

TM3 – Strategic

Go out of way to cause problems, but without a sustained and planned long-term campaign.

Harassment, Alarm or Distress

(ad vita aut ademptio).




Harassment warning under s.4 or s.4A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 or caution under relevant legislation.




Custodial sentence under s.127 of the Communications Act 2003 or s.1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988, of 26 to 52 days or up-to 18 weeks.

TM4  – Domination

Goes out of the way to create rich media to target one or more specific individuals

Grossly Offensive, Indecent, Obscene or Menacing
(ad vita aut ademptio)



Restraining order under s.5 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 or related court orders, such as under The Family Law Act 1996.




Custodial sentence under s.127 of the Communications Act 2003 or s.1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988, for up to 6 months for each act. Related custodial sentences for breaching a court order.

This research paper introduces the concept of ‘Trolling Magnitude’ for rating flame trolling messages, in order to pit-point the severity of a posting. The scale runs from 1 to 4, with 1 representing a message where little planning and effort went into it, up to 4 where a significant amount of planning and effort went into the posting.

Considering the Trolling Magnitude Scale in the context of the CPS social media guidance

A CPS score of 1 is met if an EMFt may constitute credible threats of violence to the person concerned or damage to property. In the case of the trolling magnitude scale in Figure 1, this only falls within a TM of 2.00 to 2.49. This is because the appropriate action is to detain the person so they cannot carry out further offences. A CPS score of 2 is for an EMFt that specifically target an individual or individuals. This correlates to TMs of 2.50 to 4.49. As can be gathered from this, there is such a wide scope to this CPS score, that law enforcement authorities might want to use the TMS for more specific guidance in order to be proportionate. The CPS score of 3 only applies to a TM of 4.50 to 4.99 and a CPS score of 4 applies to TMs of between 1 and 1.99. The CPS score of 3 applies to those EMFts that may amount to a breach of a court order and thus fall into the maximum of the TMS (TM 4.50 to 4.99). This is likely to be where the person before the court meets ‘pertinax reus’, through committing previous offences at a lower TM. According to the CPS guidance, a CPS score of 4 refers to those EMFTs which are not severe enough for the other grades, but which nevertheless may be  considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false. In the TMS these correlate to a TM of 1.00 to 1.99, which are best suited to a fixed penalty notice rather than criminal action.


The above information and table can be cited from this research paper that follows:

  • Bishop, J. (2013). The art of trolling law enforcement: a review and model for implementing ‘flame trolling’ legislation enacted in Great Britain (1981–2012). International Review of Law, Computers & Technology.

3 thoughts on “Guide to appropriate trolling laws for specific offences

  1. Tony

    Where do you get off telling people what the punishments should be for trolling? You don’t even understand what trolling is and the diffence between trolling and being a w*****r.

    All you’ve done is pick up on a here today gone tomorrow media buzzword and appoint yourself the big I am about something you don’t even have a clue about.

    Trolling isn’t illegal. It never has been and it will, I hope, never be because what you are talking about isn’t trolling. Stop believing the crap you read in the papers or have looked up on wikipedia (which is full of s**t anyway)and use a bit of that enormous scholorlay mind of your and check your f***ing facts.

    Why don’t you stop pretending you know anything about trolling and at least have the honesty to change the title of your lamentable ‘institution’ to ‘The Crocels School Of Not Knowing What The F**k I’m Talking About’?

    At least that would be honest.

    1. jonathanbishop Post author

      Could you please point me to your credentials on the subject please? Mine are pre-eminent. You can read (I hope you can) my authoritative account of the changing meanings of the term trolling here.
      The Trolling Academy was founded to correct the media presentation of trolling as something always immoral.
      I also made a complaint to the BBC and PCC about the wrongful use of the term trolling by the media. The conclusions included that the use of the term has changed. One must change with the times and I have.

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