Posted on November 4, 2021

Internet Trolls ‘Could Face Prison for Psychological Harm Under Tory Plans’

Aletha Adu, Mirror, November 1, 2021

Internet trolls could face two years in prison for posting content on social media that causes “psychological harm”, reports claim.

The Online Safety Bill is designed to make tech firms more accountable for user generated harmful content hosted on their platforms, ranging from child sex exploitation to terrorism – under the watch of Ofcom.

But the Department for Culture, Media & Sport are considering to accept recommendations from the Law Commission for crimes to be based on “likely psychological harm”.

It will shift the focus from messages containing “indecent” or “grossly offensive” content to the “harmful effect” of a message.

And Culture secretary Nadine Dorries could add the measures to the bill in Parliament next month.

The Times was told that the plans had been sent to cabinet for approval.

A Government spokesman said: “We are making our laws fit for the digital age.

“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 offences.”

Ofcom chief Dame Melanie Dawes admitted the bill will not actually stop England players being attacked on social media.

Dame Melanie told the Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee) that the bill would not “completely transform” the scale of harm online.

Committee chair Damian Collins, asked how she will avoid being drawn into individual cases like the abuse the England football team faced after the Euro’s.

“You can imagine that you will be asked, well have the companies breached their obligations set out in codes of practice? What action will you take and will it trigger a fine or some other form of intervention?” he questioned.

The regulator chief responded: “You will get drawn into discussions in the media and there are bound to be events like that, which still happen.

“We’re not going to have complete transformation, certainly not quickly in the scale of harm, that’s out there.”

Dame Melanie acknowledged that keeping social networks in check will be “really challenging” and suggested some areas of the proposed laws go tougher.

But she warned that the UK’s enforcement could be at a disadvantage to similar plans by the European Union.

Amid a string of recommendations the Ofcom chief recommended the bill should require tech firms to work with external researchers, but said Brexit may leave the UK at a disadvantage.

“There’s an opportunity for them actually, for the regulator, to set some terms for that and accredited researchers,” she said.

“And actually, the slight risk, I think that the European Union is going to make that a requirement in their bill, and therefore British research groups don’t get the same potential actually… that will disadvantage the UK if we don’t have the same powers that are going to be coming in the EU.”