Australian pleads guilty to making online threats over Tinder profile

File photo dated 11/01/16 of a person using the Tinder app on a smartphone Image copyright Press Association
Image caption A friend of Alchin's originally shared a picture of 25-year-old Olivia Melville's Tinder profile in August 2015

An Australian man has pleaded guilty to making sexual threats on social media, in what is seen as a landmark victory for opponents of online harassment.

Zach Alchin, 25, sent the comments on Facebook in response to a picture his friend shared of a woman's profile on the Tinder dating app.

He told police he was drunk and was unaware he was committing a crime.

The woman whose picture was at the centre of the story says she is "pretty shocked" he changed his plea to guilty.

Alchin had previously pleaded not guilty but changed his plea on the first day of his trial in Sydney.

He will be sentenced in late July and could face up to three years in jail.

'What law am I breaking?'

In August 2015, a friend of Alchin's - who was not charged - shared a screenshot of the profile of Olivia Melville's Tinder profile.

It included a sexually explicit lyric from singer Nicki Minaj and rapper Drake's song Only.

The post and Alchin's comment, "Stay classy, ladies", quickly spread through social media, with many leaving abusive comments about Ms Melville, 25.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Alchin admitted to posting the comments after he was arrested, but told police he was drunk at the time and that he was unaware internet trolling was a crime

When her friends defended her online, Alchin then wrote more than 50 posts, including rape threats, derogatory comments about feminists and saying that women should "never have been given rights".

He was reported by 24-year-old Paloma Brierley Newton, a friend of Ms Melville.

Alchin admitted posting the comments after he was arrested, but told police he had been drunk and that he was unaware it was criminal behaviour.

Court papers said he told police that he had been internet trolling a "group of feminists that were harassing me and my friends".

Alchin had allegedly asked Ms Newton what "law he was breaking" when she threatened to report him to police.

'Sending a message'

Ms Newton, Ms Melville and others set up advocacy group Sexual Violence Won't Be Silenced in wake of the incident, to challenge online sexual harassment.

"We are extremely pleased that Mr Alchin has plead guilty", the group said on Facebook.

"Out victory today sends a message to all women that they don't have to put up with harassment online; that there are steps and channels they can take, and that Australian law is on their side."

"This case will be the first of its kind and will represent a landmark victory for opponents of online harassment," said Ms Newton in a statement. "We will no longer be silenced."

Alchin was charged with "using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence" - but that law was written more than two decades ago, before Facebook or Tinder existed.

Until this case, the courts had only used that law to try people over telephone and text message communications. It had not been clear whether threats made on social media could be punished under pre-existing Australian law.

In response to Alchin's guilty plea, Ms Melville told an Australian news service: "After so long of him saying he would plead not guilty, of course I'm happy."

Nearly half of 1,000 Australian women indicated that they had experienced some form of abuse or harassment online, in a survey by computer security firm Norton.

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