Fake news and cyberflashing among online abuses outlawed  

Abusers, predators and trolls now face jail time for range of new offences as Online Safety Act comes into force. 

The government’s Online Safety Act has received Royal Assent, introducing into law a range of new criminal offences with the aim of protecting people from abuse and harm online.  

person wearing mask

Photo by Nahel Abdul Hadi

Much of the new legislation involves the accountability of tech companies and social media platforms for content hosted on their sites. But the new offences detailed below apply directly to those individuals who post threatening or harmful material. 

The new offences include: cyberflashing; the non-sensual sharing of intimate images (‘revenge porn’); the sending of threatening messages and death threats; and the sending of fake news that aims to cause non-trivial physical or psychological harm. 

Another new offence was inspired by the experience suffered by a boy called Zach who has epilepsy. When he was eight years-old, Zach went online to raise money for the Epilepsy Society. Trolls responded to his campaign on social media site Twitter (now ‘X’), by posting a flood of responses with flashing animated images aimed at triggering an epileptic seizure. 

Zach was not harmed by this but others who followed the online fundraising campaign said they suffered seizures. Under what’s been called ‘Zach’s law’, it’s now an offence to post such images with the intention of causing home to people with epilepsy. Those found guilty could face jail. 

Clare Pelham, Chief Executive of the Epilepsy Society says: ‘In this country we have a fine tradition of standing up to bullies. And with this new offence, Zach’s Law, the government is offering the full protection of the criminal law to people with epilepsy who are deliberately assaulted by flashing images sent by cowardly bullies. 

‘We are the first country in the world to do this and the Epilepsy Society has already been contacted by victims abroad who hope their governments will follow our example.’ 

Another campaign has led to the new offence to share intimate images without the consent of those depicted. The campaign to change the law was sparked by the harrowing experience of Georgia Harrison, a former contestant on Love Island. Now, bitter ex-partners and other abuses who share – or even threaten to share – such images could face prison for up to six months. If they are shown to have intended to cause distress, alarm or humiliation, or to obtain sexual gratification, that sentence can rise to two years. 

Those found guilty of cyberflashing could face a similar period in jail. Sending death threats or threats of serious harm – which is already illegal if said in person – could result in a sentence of up to five years.  

Another new offence is the intentional sending of false information that could cause ‘non-trivial psychological’ or physical harm to users online. Meanwhile, posting content that encourages or assisting users to self-harm could also result in five years in jail.  

Richard Collard, Associate Head of Child Safety Online at the NSPCC, says: ‘Children can be particularly vulnerable to content that encourages or assists self-harm and everything possible should be done to protect them from it while they are online. 

‘We hope this new offence will act as a deterrent to people deliberately spreading this extremely dangerous material. At the same time the focus must remain on tech companies and their duty under the Online Safety Act to design safety into their platforms and stop this content from being suggested and shared in the first place.’ 

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan adds: ‘From today, online abusers and trolls will be prosecuted and put behind bars for their cowardly and menacing acts – ensuring the public are protected and can have better peace of mind when online. 

‘Our pioneering Online Safety Act is already setting a global standard, and pivotal protections like these will keep sick individuals off our streets and unable to endanger Brits online.’ 

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Curb on password sharing boosts Netflix numbers 


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