Internet users who encourage self-harm could face up to five years in prison, government plans say.
The amendment to the Online Safety Act will build on existing laws that make it illegal to encourage or assist suicide, the Department of Justice (MoJ) said.
According to Attorney General Alex Chalk, the measures are aimed at deterring “cowardly trolls” who post such content online with the prospect of prosecution.
Contributions do not necessarily have to be directed at a specific person or group to be considered a criminal offense.
Building on the existing measures in the Online Safety Act, our changes will make it easier to convict these vile individuals and make the internet a better and safer place for everyone
The general encouragement of self-harm, starvation and failure to take prescribed medication are covered by the law, the Justice Department said.
Ministers had previously announced that encouraging self-harm would be criminalized but confirmed on Thursday that the maximum penalty for the offense would be five years’ imprisonment if convicted.
This comes after former culture secretary Nicky Morgan accused the government of “condoning” dangerous content online by rejecting calls for such content to be filtered out by default.
The Tory MP has urged ministers to make an amendment to the bill to require users to “flip a switch” when opting for the most harmful material, rather than opting out.
Attorney General Alex Chalk said: “There is no place in our society for those who consciously seek to encourage serious self-harm in others.”
“Our new law will send a clear message to those cowardly trolls that their behavior is unacceptable.
“Building on the existing measures in the Online Safety Act, our changes will make it easier to convict these despicable individuals and make the internet a better and safer place for all.”
The measures follow a 2021 Law Commission recommendation that individuals responsible for encouraging or abetting serious self-harm should be better criminally accountable.
They follow the case of Molly Russell, a teenage girl who took her own life after being exposed to graphic self-harm and suicide content online.
While the bill provides a higher level of protection for children, those protections would be lifted once they turn 18, and all adults would be exposed to harmful content unless they choose not to.
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