British legislators are considering making it illegal to post certain content online that causes “emotional, psychological, or physical harm to the likely audience.” The provision, which would be part of the so-called Online Safety Bill, would include jail time for those who defy such requirements.
“Trolls could face two years in prison for sending messages or posting content that causes psychological harm under legislation targeting online hate,” reported The Times. “Ministers will overhaul communication laws by creating new offenses in the forthcoming Online Safety Bill, the flagship legislation to combat abuse and hatred on the internet.”
“The Department for Culture, Media & Sport has accepted recommendations from the Law Commission for crimes to be based on ‘likely psychological harm,’” the report continued. “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.”
According to The Times, the bill would ban “threatening communications” and “knowingly false communications.”
“We are making our laws fit for the digital age,” said a government spokesperson. “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 offenses.”
The Online Safety Bill would also impose additional standards on Big Tech platforms, including that they remove content that could be harmful to users, even if the content itself is legal. In response, Twitter’s Katy Minshall said that the draft bill failed to answer key questions such as how to define legal but harmful material, according to the BBC.
The U.K. Culture Secretary said that this move would make the United Kingdom “the safest place in the world to be online.”
Writing for the Daily Mail, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nadine Dorries, referenced the terrorism-motivated stabbing of Sir David Amess in October, as well as the “online abuse” she has received, as part of the motivation behind this legislative move.
“David was just doing his job and his death was an attack on democracy. While our efforts to introduce legislation to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online might not have changed what happened last week, the heinous events have highlighted two awful facts. The online arena remains the home of disgusting, often anonymous abuse, and a place where people are radicalised,” Dorries wrote.
“Online hate has poisoned public life. It’s often unbearable. And it has to end,” she added. “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.”