Online Safety Bill UK: proposed changes by Michelle Donelan would criminalise encouraging self-harm

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said the update would target communications that encourage someone to self harm

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The Online Safety Bill is going to be updated to criminalise encouraging others to self-harm, according to Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan.

According to Donelan, the proposed update would create a new offence targeting communications that encourage someone to physically harm themselves – thus making it illegal to do so. This would bring such communications in line with those that encourage suicide, which are already illegal.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have attributed these changes to the death of teenager Molly Russell in 2017, who died by suicide after encountering social media content linked to depression, self-harm, and suicide.

“I am determined that the abhorrent trolls encouraging the young and vulnerable to self-harm are brought to justice,” said Donelan, who was appointed Culture Secretary in September after two years in different ministerial roles at the Department for Education.

“I am strengthening our online safety laws to make sure these vile acts are stamped out and the perpetrators face jail time. Social media firms can no longer remain silent bystanders either and they’ll face fines for allowing this abusive and destructive behaviour to continue on their platforms under our laws.”

Updates to the bill will require social media companies to remove any such communications, and anyone found to have sent messages that encourage self-harm will face prosecution.

Representatives for DCMS have been unable to indicate when amendments to the Online Safety Bill might be tabled in Parliament, though the bill is due to return to Parliament in early December. The Government is also yet to suggest what the maximum penalty for such an offence will be, but have said that this will be put forth in due course.

Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab commented: “Lives and families have been devastated by those who encourage vulnerable internet users to self-harm.

“Our changes will ensure the full force of the law applies to those callous and reckless individuals who try to manipulate the vulnerable online in this way.”

This comes shortly after the Government announced other new offences being added to the Online Safety Bill which would prohibit sharing intimate images without consent.