Cyber Security
Cyberflashing, fake news, revenge porn and other forms of cyberbullying will be a jailable offence amounting to up to fiver-year prison sentence as the UK government made the Online Safety Act a law today. AFP News/NICOLAS ASFOURI

British people are set to get some relief from fake news, cyberflashing and other non-trivial forms of online abuse as the UK government introduced new plans to criminalise them.

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology announced on January 31 that new offences are being introduced to criminalise cyberflashing and fake news. This part of the Online Safety Act which come into force from today.

The new offences added to the Online Safety Act will keep cybercrime in check as criminals indulging in fake news, and cyberflashing can get up to five years of prison sentence depending upon how dangerous their crime was.

The UK government formulated these new rules with the help of several UK charities working for children and the Love Island stars who campaigned for Zach's Law for eight years.

Zach's law was legislation passed in December 2022 to prevent cyberbullying of people with disabilities like the 11-year-old epilepsy-suffering boy from Liversedge named Zach Eagling who was targeted by trolls.

With the Online Safety Act, the Sunak government is ensuring that predators, trolls and abusers indulging in cyberflashing, death threats, epilepsy or disability trolling are put behind bars as these offences will now be categorised as jailable crimes.

The Online Safety Act getting the royal ascent will protect UK consumers, especially UK children from a wide range of online abuse and harm like revenge porn where non-consensual sharing of intimate images happens.

Threatening messages and fake news will also be included in this as they can cause non-trivial physical or psychological harm.

Earlier in November 2023, the government introduced the Online Safety Act underlying how tech companies can face up to £18 million loss if they don't act against trolls.

Reacting to the Online Safety Law coming into force, the UK Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said: "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," added Donelan.

The Online Safety Law upholds the UK's commitment to standing up to bullies

The UK government has dubbed the Online Safety Act the Zach's Law as it also includes online trolls who try to harm people suffering from epilepsy by sending them derogatory images and text messages.

The campaign for including epilepsy trolling into the law started when eight-year-old Zach Eagling was raising money for the UK Epilepsy Society on Twitter and was flooded with images and GIFs sent to trigger seizures in epilepsy patients. This incident led to seizures in several others who were part of the campaign although Eagling was unharmed. Hence, the Online Safety Act is of importance to the Epilepsy Society.

Speaking about the law, the Chief Executive of Epilepsy Society Clare Pelham said: "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," Pelham added.

As per the new law sharing or threatening to share intimate images online or offline without consent will be designated as a jailable offence. This measure is a result of campaigning by Love Island star Georgia Harrison who has been abused by her former partners.

The UK government has designated six months to two years of prison term for such offenders who intend to trigger distress or humiliation in their targets or simply use images for sexual gratification.

People indulging in cyberflashing on AirDrop, dating apps and other apps will also face two years of prison terms. Those who send threatening messages or death threats online will get a five-year sentence for 'threatening communications'.

The Sunak government is also cracking down on false communications like fake news through the online safety law as it can spread dangerous disinformation ahead of the general election and influence it apart from triggering physical or psychological harm in people.

Furthermore, the law seeks to protect UK children from self-harm content and people sharing posts that encourage self-harm and suicide can face up to five years of sentence. This comes at a time when the UK police are dealing with the world's first digital rape in the Metaverse world where a UK teenager has been attacked.

Speaking about the child safety aspect of the law, the Associate Head of Child Safety Online at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) Richard Collard, said: "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," Collard continued.

He added: "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."