UK’s Online Safety Bill could result in social media users being jailed for 2 yrs for ‘psychological harm’

Internet trolls in the United Kingdom could face two years in prison for posting content on social media that causes “psychological harm,” if lawmakers have their way.

The Online Safety Bill looks to bring an end to online abuse and while the legislation targets Big Tech, online trolls are also addressed

“Trolls could face two years in prison for sending messages or posting content that causes psychological harm under legislation targeting online hate. Ministers will overhaul communication laws by creating new offences in the forthcoming Online Safety Bill, the flagship legislation to combat abuse and hatred on the internet,” The Times reported.

The British newspaper reported on Monday that the Department for Culture, Media & Sport has accepted recommendations from the Law Commission to base crimes on “likely psychological harm.”

“The proposed law change will shift the focus on to the ‘harmful effect’ of a message rather than if it contains ‘indecent’ or ‘grossly offensive’ content, which is the present basis for assessing its criminality, the article said. “A new offence of ‘threatening communications’ will target messages and social media posts that contain threats of serious harm.”

Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, wrote an op-ed published last month by the Daily Mail, following the death of Sir David Amess, a British Conservative Party politician and Member of Parliament, who was stabbed to death by a radicalized 25-year-old British man of Somali heritage, Ali Harbi Ali.

“If you’re in the public eye, and particularly if you’re a woman, death threats and online abuse are the backdrop to your daily life. It’s a dark, foreboding cloud that follows you everywhere you go,” Dorries wrote, adding that the “online arena remains the home of disgusting, often anonymous abuse, and a place where people are radicalized.”

“Online hate has poisoned public life. It’s often unbearable. And it has to end,” she said. “We have the legislation to do it. Our Online Safety Bill is one of the most ambitious pieces of legislation in the internet age. No other country has published a Bill that will go so far to make big tech accountable for the content on their platforms, and for the way they promote it.”

While the focus is on Big Tech, Dorries said that while “some trolls may be anonymous, they can be traced when the right information is shared.”

“But big tech can – and must – do more right now. These are some of the most technologically sophisticated, wealthiest companies in the world. They have the tools to tackle hatred. Too many times, they’ve jeopardized people for profit,” Dorries concluded. “Enough is enough. Social media companies have no excuses. And once this Bill passes through Parliament, they will have no choice.”

Dorries could add the proposed measures to the bill in Parliament next month.

“We are making our laws fit for the digital age,” a government spokesperson told The Times. “Our comprehensive Online Safety Bill will make tech companies responsible for people’s safety and we are carefully considering the Law Commission’s recommendations on strengthening criminal offences.”

Tom Tillison


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