Online Safety Act 2023 – New Offences

Posted: 25 January 2024

As the online world grows and evolves, so too do the laws governing how it should be engaged with. Specifically, what a person is prohibited from using the internet to do. On 31st January 2024, Part 10 of the Online Safety Act 2023 will come into force. Introducing new offences and the thresholds a person must cross to be charged and/or convicted in relation to said offences. When these new offences come into force, anyone who commits an act or acts which satisfy the points put forth in the legislation risks being investigated and prosecuted.

The online safety act

Sending false communications

Section 179 creates an offence of sending a false communication to someone. A person will be guilty of this if they, without reasonable excuse, send a message to another which conveys information they know to be false. Plus, that they intend the recipient to be caused non-trivial psychological or physical harm as a direct result. This offence is similar to that of Malicious Communications in that both prohibit the sending of a message which is false and/or not believed to be true by the sender. This new offence, however, can be considered more serious as it shows an intention to cause harm to another.

Sending/showing flashing images electronically

The above is not the only new offence to be brought into force by this act. Section 183 creates an offence of sending or showing flashing images electronically to people with epilepsy, intending to cause them harm. This is defined in the act as a seizure, or alarm or distress. For the offence to be made out, it does not matter whether the images may be viewed immediately or only after some action (such as pressing play). As soon as a person sends the flashing image with it being reasonably foreseeable that a person with epilepsy would view the communication. As well as the communication being sent with the intention that the individual will be caused harm. The offence is complete, and the sender may be prosecuted.

Encouraging serious self-harm

A further new offence that has been introduced was presumably done to tackle messages/images being sent. Encouraging the recipient to cause serious harm to themselves. With social media and instant messaging having become widely available to the public, there has been an increase in the number of people who use these platforms to convey messages which are intended to cause levels of distress and/or anxiety. There are occasions where this comes in the form of encouragement to engage in self-harm. Under Section 184 of the act, a person will commit an offence if they do a relevant act capable of encouraging or assisting the serious self-harm of another person. Plus, their intention was to encourage or assist in said serious self-harm. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, “serious harm” means harm that is on a level of grievous bodily harm (GBH).

Ensure you are correctly advised

These are criminal offences, and as such, investigation may lead to prosecution, and prosecution will lead to an appearance at court. If you are approached by the authorities in relation to having allegedly committed any of these offences, it is important that you are properly advised and represented. Seek such advice and representation from our experience criminal defence lawyers by enquiring on our website, sending an email or calling 01473 226577. For more information regarding the other offences that are being brought into force on the aforementioned date, you can search The Online Safety Act 2023 to read more about them.

For more information regarding other offences that are being brought into force under The Online Safety Act 2023, contact our Criminal Defence Department. We also aim to provide updates on legislation via our website news.

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