UK: Prison for Explicit Content, Death Threats, and Epilepsy Triggers

Published: 02 February 2024

Smartphone Nail-Polished

Among the new criminal offenses, anyone who threatens or shares intimate content of an individual will face a prison term in the U.K. (Photo: PxHere, License)

By Erika Di Benedetto

From now on, anyone who commits online abuses such as sending pornographic images without the consent of the receiver, death threats, fake news intended to harm, or electric images that intensely flash to a person suffering from epilepsy, will land in prison, the U.K. government stated on Wednesday.

The new rule will cover new criminal offenses such as cyberflashing, epilepsy-trolling, and revenge porn under the Online Safety Act.

Sending unwanted sexual images via text, messages, social media, email, dating apps, or other platforms is a form of online harassment known as cyberflashing, which is now a criminal offense in the U.K. and can lead to up to two years of imprisonment. The maximum penalty will be imposed if the act is aimed at gaining sexual satisfaction or causing distress, alarm, or humiliation.

Furthermore, the U.K. has decided to introduce a law to enhance online protection for individuals suffering from epilepsy.

"Zack's Law" is named after an eight-year-old epileptic child who raised funds on social media for the medical charity Epilepsy Society. During the campaign, however, some individuals decided to shower the charity's profile with GIFs and images designed to trigger seizures in people with epilepsy. This act is known as epilepsy-trolling.

“In this country we have a fine tradition of standing up to bullies,” said Clare Pelham, Chief Executive of Epilepsy Society.

"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," she added.

In addition to cyberflashing, individuals who share or threaten to share private images without consent may now face imprisonment under the new "revenge porn" law. Offenders could be imprisoned for up to six months, or up to two years if their intent was to cause distress, alarm, or humiliation, or if the image was shared for sexual gratification.

Furthermore, the law on "threatening communications" now covers death or harm threats sent online, making it a punishable offense with a potential prison term of up to five years.

Another aspect of the Online Safety Act impacts online safety for children. Those who will produce and share content depicting and promoting self-harm will also face up to five years in prison.

"We hope this new offense will act as a deterrent to people deliberately spreading this extremely dangerous material. 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 prevent this content from being suggested and shared in the first place," said Richard Collard, Associate Head of Child Safety Online at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

In July 2023, the U.K. strengthened rules on illegal ads and influencer scams to protect child safety online. In November 2023, it called on tech companies, including major players like TikTok, Snapchat, and Stability AI, as well as other entities, to take action to better protect children online in response to the proliferation of AI-generated child sexual abuse material.