Law Commission Publishes Recommendations to Tackle Online Abuse

23 Jul 2021 UK SIC

The law commission has published new recommendations to address harm online through protecting victims of online abuse as well as aiming to protect freedom of expression. These new recommendations have been put forward because of the previous laws that govern online abuse being deemed ineffective against common types of harms online, often over criminalising certain situations and under criminalising others whilst relying on ‘vague’ terms to determine the severity of the situation.

A Time for Change

It was found that More than 70% of UK adults have a social media profile and internet users spend over four hours online each day on average.’ A report from the Alan Turing Institute also discovered that one third of people in the UK had been exposed to online harm. Statistics such as these prompted a review of communication offences to see if they could be modernised to tackle current harms that are posing a threat to victims online. This also would ensure that the law was clearer and there were consistent definitions around criminal behaviour whilst ensuring that ‘freedom of expression’ was protected.

Minister for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage said:

“We are putting new legal responsibilities on social media companies to protect the British public. But we have to be confident we can hold the individuals using these sites to threaten, abuse and spread hate accountable too.

“I thank the Law Commission for its detailed recommendations which we will carefully consider as we update our laws for the digital age, protecting freedom of speech while making sure what is unacceptable offline is unacceptable online.”

New Recommendations and Offences

The new recommendations look to act towards the potential psychological effects it can have towards the victim as opposed to the communication itself. It was recommended that content could be criminalised if

  • Someone sends or posts something online that is likely to cause harm to a likely audience.
  • Someone intends to cause harm to a ‘likely audience’.
  • Someone sends or posts something without ‘reasonable excuse’.

This new offence could also address pile-on harassment – when a number of different individuals send coordinated harassing content to the same victim.

The new offences that have been brought forward to recommend include:

  • Cyberflashing
  • Encouragement or glorification of serious self-harm
  • Sending flashing images with intent to induce a seizure
  • Knowingly false communications
  • Threatening communications

Kathryn Tremlett, Report Harmful Content Manager, said:

‘Our helplines welcome the recommendations made today acknowledging that no one should have to suffer harmful content online. When it comes to communications offences online, the boundaries are often blurred which has led to certain types of online harm and abuse to continue for far too long. We hope that government will implement reforms as soon as possible, simultaneously  encouraging adequate training for law enforcement in order to help ensure better access to criminal justice for victims.’

Report Harmful Content, as part of the UK Safer Internet Centre helps to protect victims from harmful content online. If you have experienced  or witnessed harmful content online, find out how to report this on www.reportharmfulcontent.com  

Recommendations taken from an original press release from law commission