Cyber trolls face up to five years in jail

The Online Safety Act enforces new regulations regarding cyber flashing, epilepsy trolling, and other harmful activities.

Cyber flashing is the act of sending unsolicited nude photos to individuals, while epilepsy trolling is the process of sending flashing media aiming to trigger a seizure.

These acts will be criminalized as a part of new laws introduced by the UK government.

Cyber flashing often occurs on social media and dating sites but can also be distributed via data-sharing services such as Bluetooth and Airdrop.

This can be particularly damaging as even if the person rejects the image, a photo preview can still appear on a person’s device – demonstrating the inescapable nature of cyber flashing.

Studies show that 76% of females aged from 12 to 18 have been victims of cyber flashing, according to 2020 research by Professor Jessica Ringrose.

This highlights the intensity of action required when it comes to minors receiving unsolicited nude images online.

On January 31st, 2024, new laws were enacted to criminalize cyber flashing, epilepsy trolling, and other alternative offenses.

“Offenses for ‘cyberflashing’, sending death threats, and ‘epilepsy-trolling’ are written into the statute book after the Online Safety Act gained Royal Assent,” the latest press release reads.

These criminal acts could now earn an individual five years of jail time for sending:

  • Unsolicited nude images
  • Epilepsy trolling
  • Death threats
  • Revenge porn
  • Fake news that aims to cause non-trivial physical or psychological harm

“From today, online abusers and trolls will be prosecuted and put behind bars for their cowardly and menacing acts – ensuring the public is protected and can have better peace of mind when online,” Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said.

Epilepsy trolling

One of the laws known as “Zach’s Law” relates to epilepsy trolling, where a person will send flashing images used to incite a seizure.

What inspired the campaign for this law was when an individual called Zach – who has epilepsy – was raising funds for the Epilepsy Society when trolls took to Twitter and filled the society’s profile with flashing imagery to purposely trigger a seizure.

The UK is the first country in the world to combat this type of crime, but it's apparent that this type of “bullying” occurs all over the world.

“In this country, we have a fine tradition of standing up to bullies. And with this new offense, Zach’s Law, the government is offering the full protection of the criminal law to people with epilepsy who are deliberately assaulted by flashing images sent by cowardly bullies,” Clare Pelham, Chief Executive of the Epilepsy Society, said.

Cyber flashing

Cyber flashing will also earn individuals jail time for soliciting sexual images via dating apps, social media, or data-sharing services.

Criminals can expect to spend two years in prison if they’re caught cyber-flashing for the purpose of sexual gratification or to cause alarm, distress, or humiliation.

The Online Safety Act is designed to hold tech giants and social media companies accountable for the content that appears on their platforms while bringing justice to individuals harmed by these criminal acts.

“These new offenses will apply directly to the individuals sending threatening or menacing messages and bring justice directly to them,” the press release concludes.