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Tougher laws criminalizing online bullying are being considered

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It has been reported that ministers are working with the Law Commission to create criminal offences which would allow prosecution of those responsible for online communications that caused “serious emotional distress” to a victim.

Those convicted could potentially face up to two years imprisonment under seven new criminal “duty of care” laws. The offences could allow prosecution of online bullies and those people who join internet “pile-ons”, which is where several different individuals send threatening communication to a victim.

The laws would cover social media posts, WhatsApp messages and emails. Social media platforms could be liable for removing such content and could face substantial fines for failing to do so in the United Kingdom (UK), similar to current illegal online child or terrorist content. Social media platforms could also have their services to consumers in the UK restricted.

The possible new laws would allow the Government to better define illegal online behaviour and assist in protecting children from online harm. Some of the offences being considered are:

  • Cyber flashing, which is sending or sharing, unwanted images or videos, of genitals. This would be a form of sexual harassment punishable by up to two years imprisonment.
  • The Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden has suggested that online content that encourages self-harm or suicide should be criminal.
  • The sending of knowingly false communications which cause a victim “emotional, psychological, or physical harm” without reasonable excuse could also be an offence punishable by up to six months imprisonment.
  • Encouragement or incitement of pile-on harassment and knowingly participating could also be illegal along with glorification of violence and violent crime.

The Law Commission has said that it hopes to have completed its review of the proposed laws early this year.

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