Online Safety Bill: full list of criminal offences added, what it means for websites and Ofcom powers explained

The Online Safety Bill aims to establish a new way to regulate online content

A number of new criminal offences have been added to proposed online safety laws known as the Online Safety Bill.

If passed, the Government’s online safety bill could see social networks fined 10% of their global turnover if they fail to remove harmful content.

But what is the Online Safety Bill and which new criminal offences have been added?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is the Online Safety Bill?

The Online Safety Bill aims to establish a new way to regulate online content, covering not just abusive messages, but all harmful material online, from bullying through to pornography.

The bill is currently going through parliament and intends to introduce obligations on social media firms in order to keep their users safe and protect them from harmful material.

The latest changes mean social networks will also have to proactively find and block harmful content.

Ofcom will become the online safety regulator and will monitor how these companies comply with the law.

Under the new changes, crimes such as revenge porn, people smuggling, fraud and the sale of illegal drugs or weapons will be added to a list of priority offences, which means online platforms will be forced to remove any content relating to the offences and proactively work to stop their users from encountering it.

Other areas added to the priority list include hate crime, promotion or facilitation of suicide, sexual exploitation, and the sale of illegal weapons.

Which new criminal offences have been added?

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries confirmed three criminal offences are to be included in the bill after reports from parliamentary committees warned that the bill required strengthening and further clarity.

The Government said the offences have been recommended by the Law Commission in an effort to make the law fit for the internet age.

The first offence is a "genuinely threatening" communications offence, which covers communications that are sent or posted to convey a threat of serious harm.

This is designed to capture online threats to rape, kill and inflict physical violence or cause people serious financial harm.

Under the new changes, those found guilty of this offence could face up to five years in prison.

The second offence added to the bill is a harm-based communications offence, which hopes to make it easier to prosecute online abusers and better address forms of violence against women or girls.

This will carry a maximum sentence of two years behind bars.

The third offence added is for when someone sends a communication they know to be false with the intent to cause harm, including the likes of hoax bomb threats or spreading harmful Covid misinformation.

If found guilty, a person could face up to a 51-week sentence.