Causing ‘psychological harm’ to be added to the Online Safety Bill

Online abusers could face two years in prison for sending messages or posting content that causes psychological harm under the new parliamentary bill.

The Department for Culture, Media & Sport has accepted recommendations from the Law Commission for crimes to be based on “likely psychological harm” rather than just “indecent” or “grossly offensive” content.

This widens the purview of the law, and the proposed change will focus on the “harmful effect” of a troll’s message rather than the content itself.

The new offence will focus on social media posts where there is intention that the victim feels a genuine sense of fear that a threat will be carried out. This aims at addressing the snowballing effect of online abuse, where users can jeer each other on and cause distress to the victim.

A “knowingly false communication” offence will be created that will criminalise those who send or post a message they know to be false with the intention to cause “emotional, psychological, or physical harm to the likely audience”. 

The move is likely to be met with resistance from freedom of speech campaigners.