Online hate crimes should be treated as seriously as abuse committed face-to-face, prosecutors in England and Wales have been told.
Revising its guidance for prosecutors, the Crown Prosecution Service said the impact of tweeting abuse can be as “equally devastating” as shouting it.
The guidance includes offences against bisexual people for the first time.
Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said online abuse can fuel “dangerous hostility”.
A hate crime is an offence motivated by a “hostility or prejudice”, including racism, sexism or homophobia.
Writing in the Guardian, Ms Saunders said recent events in the US – where white nationalists clashed with counter-protesters in Charlottesville – showed what online abuse can lead to.
“Whether shouted in their face on the street, daubed on their wall or tweeted into their living room, the impact of hateful abuse on a victim can be equally devastating,” she said.
She said the internet and social media in particular have provided “new platforms” for abuse.
In December 2014, Scotland’s Crown Office issued similar prosecution guidance, saying “if it would be illegal to say it on the street, it is illegal to say it online”.