Insights Government publishes list of legal but harmful content social media companies will need to address under the Online Safety Bill


On 7 July 2022, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nadine Dorries, delivered a Statement to the House setting out the categories of types of online abuse and harassment which can fall below the threshold of a criminal offence, but which still cause significant harm to adults online.

Ms Dorries said that this threshold is important to ensure that the online safety framework focuses on content and activity which poses the most significant risk of harm to UK users online.  She noted that free speech within the law can involve the expression of views that some may find offensive, but that a line is crossed when disagreement mutates into abuse or harassment, which refuses to tolerate other opinions and seeks to deprive others from exercising their free speech and freedom of association.

Ms Dorries said that the list might not be an exhaustive list of the content which will be designated as priority harmful content under the Bill. The Government will continue to engage extensively with stakeholders, parliamentarians and Ofcom, including on some of the most harmful content online, ahead of designating the details of the three categories of priority harmful content in secondary legislation, she said.

Indicative list of priority harmful content:

Adults: priority content (Category 1 services need to address in their terms and conditions):

  • online abuse and harassment; mere disagreement with another’s point of view would not reach the threshold of harmful content, and so would not be covered by this;
  • circulation of real or manufactured intimate images without the subject’s consent;
  • content promoting self-harm;
  • content promoting eating disorders;
  • legal suicide content; and
  • harmful health content that is demonstrably false, such as urging people to drink bleach to cure cancer; it also includes some health and vaccine misinformation and disinformation but is not intended to capture genuine debate.

Children: Primary priority content (children must be prevented from encountering altogether):

  • pornography;
  • content promoting self-harm (with some content which may be designated as priority content, e.g. content focused on recovery from self-harm);
  • content promoting eating disorders (with some content which may be designated as priority content, e.g. content focused on recovery from an eating disorder); and
  • legal suicide content (with some content which may be designated as priority content, e.g. content focused on recovery).

Priority content (companies need to ensure content is age appropriate for their child users):

  • online abuse, cyberbullying and harassment;
  • harmful health content (including health and vaccine misinformation and disinformation); and
  • content depicting or encouraging violence.

To read Ms Dorries’ statement in full, click here.