UK to make it illegal to encourage others to harm themselves online

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UK to make it illegal to encourage others to harm themselves online

LONDON Reuters - Britain's government intends to make it illegal to encourage others to harm themselves online and fine social media companies that don't remove such material, as part of a revamp of the legislation governing online behaviour.

The UK's digital, culture, media and sport ministry said in a statement that it wanted to require social media firms to block a wider range of content.

Social media firms can no longer be silent bystanders and will be fined for allowing this abusive and destructive behavior to continue on their platforms under our laws, Digital Secretary Michelle Donelan said.

The Conservative government said the proposals aimed to block images and videos similar to those seen by Molly Russell, a 14-year-old whose death in 2017 sparked ongoing public concern.

In September of last year, the coroner investigating her death ruled that social media platforms had fed content to her that romanticised acts of self-harm by young people. Under the proposals, social media companies will have to remove and limit users' exposure to material that deliberately encourages people to harm themselves.

Last week, the government said that the new legislation would also ban the distribution of sexually explicit images that have been manipulated to look like they feature someone who has not consented to appear in them.

The legislation incorporating such penalties, known as the Online Safety Bill, has had a slow passage through Parliament since it was first introduced in May 2021.

Tech companies and Free-speech campaigners, who said the definition was too vague and could be used to criminalise otherwise legal behaviour, said earlier versions tried to ban legal but harmful material online.

The bill has been strongly supported by children's and mental health charities, and by people who are trying to limit racist and sexist abuse online.