The UK’s long-awaited Online Safety Act has finally come into force, bringing with it a raft of new digital offences. We have written about the Act a few times in the past, so here is a quick rundown of what has changed now it has become law.

Cyberflashing is outlawed

According to research, 76% of women aged 18 or younger have been sent unsolicited nude pictures. Clearly this is distressing and offensive for women of any age – and so the crime of cyberflashing has been introduced. 

Therefore, it is now illegal to send unsolicited nude images to anyone in the UK. Any offender who aims to cause distress and humiliation or seek sexual gratification will face up to two years behind bars.

Landmark epilepsy trolling crime introduced

An all-new offence called “Zach’s Law” has been introduced to the statute books to criminalize epilepsy trolling. Epilepsy trolling involves sending flashing images and videos to a victim in the hope of triggering a seizure in the recipient.

The law has been names after Zach Eagling who was targeted by epilepsy trolls after uploading a fundraising video to the Epilepsy Society’s Twitter account. Zach, and many other epilepsy sufferers were flooded with triggering images in the following days.

The Online Safety Act is the first time epilepsy trolling has been specifically criminalized anywhere in the world. Trolls now face prison sentences if they are caught and prosecuted.

Revenge porn laws tightened

Revenge porn – leaking nude photos of an ex-lover online without their permission – has always been illegal in the UK. However, the new Online Safety Act has closed some loopholes, offering victims greater protections.

Again, offenders face jail time if caught distributing non-consensual photographs online.

Sharing false information

In an attempt to slow or prevent the spread of fake news, the OCA introduces another new crime. It is now illegal to share false information online with the intention of causing physical or psychological harm. Penalties will be especially severe for anyone found to be specifically targeting children with malicious fake information.

New advertising protections

Internet service providers are now required to operate their services using proportionate systems and processes designed to prevent and swiftly remove fraudulent advertising. This crackdown will help to make the internet safer, prevent so many people being duped and increase trust in online transactions.

The new law also requires influencers to declare payment for promoting products. Failure to make these disclosures could mean that influencers could face higher penalties for breaching requirements.

Making the internet safer for all

Questions about privacy aside, the Online Safety Act is intended to make the internet a safer place for everyone. By introducing new crimes and strengthening legislation, the government has set out to close some of the loopholes and limitations of existing laws.

The new law is still ‘bedding in’, so it may be some time before UK citizens notice any major changes or benefits. However, in many ways, this is a step in the right direction – particularly for young and vulnerable people.