Vile trolls who hide behind the anonymity of the internet to encourage others to cause themselves serious harm will face prosecution as part of an overhaul of online safety laws announced today (18 May 2023).
Additions to the Online Safety Bill will make it a crime to encourage someone to cause serious self-harm, regardless of whether or not victims go on to injure themselves and those convicted face up to 5 years in prison.
The new offence will add to existing laws which make it illegal to encourage or assist someone to take their own life.
Police or prosecutors will only have to prove communication was intended to encourage or assist serious self-harm amounting to grievous bodily harm (GBH) – this could include serious injuries such as broken bones or permanent physical scarring.
The offence will apply even where the perpetrator does not know the person they are targeting – putting an end to abhorrent trolling that risks serious self-harm or life-changing injuries.
Encouraging someone to starve themselves or not take prescribed medication will also be covered.
Research from the Mental Health Foundation shows that more than a quarter of women between 16-24 have reported self-harm at some point in their life and since 1993 the levels of self-harm among women have tripled. Today’s announcement is the latest step in our work to provide greater protections for women and girls who are more likely to self-harm.
Research also shows more than two-thirds of UK adults are concerned about seeing content that promotes or advocates self-harm while online.
Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk KC, said:
“There is no place in our society for those who set out to deliberately encourage the serious self-harm of others. Our new law will send a clear message to these cowardly trolls that their behaviour is not acceptable.
“Building on the existing measures in the Online Safety Bill our changes will make it easier to convict these vile individuals and make the internet a better and safer place for everyone.”
The new offence will be created following a recommendation from the Law Commission in 2021 and balances the need to protect vulnerable people while not criminalising those who document their own self-harm as part of their recovery journey.
Justice Minister, Edward Argar MP, said:
“No parent should ever worry about their children seeing content online or elsewhere encouraging them to hurt themselves.
“Our reforms will punish those who use encourage vulnerable people to inflict serious injuries on themselves and make sure they face the prospect of time behind bars.”
This new offence builds on measures already in the Online Safety Bill, which will better regulate social media and ensure that social media companies like Tiktok, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and others are held legally responsible for the content on their sites.