Bumble Concerned about Cyberflashing Loophole in UK Online Safety Bill

Online Safety

Harmful Intent” Language Could Be a Problem for Cyberflashing Bill

The United Kingdom is in the process of outlining a broad online safety bill that would address a number of things including criminalizing cyberflashing. Recently, online dating app Bumble noted a potential problem in the bill’s current form that could make enforcement of cyberflashing rules difficult. Let’s take a deep dive into this revelation. 

What is the UK Online Safety Bill?

Before getting into the specifics relating to the Bumble find, it is useful to discuss what exactly the UK online safety bill is. For those unfamiliar, this is a bill that is currently being discussed that attempts to improve internet safety through regulation. 

The overarching bill is actually quite broad, working to oversee many different kinds of actions online. For example, it seeks to ensure that companies follow their terms of service, places restrictions on fraudulent advertisements, and requires age checks for sites where users may come across sensitive content. 

However, one thing that the bill does that is particularly relevant to the online dating world is its efforts to improve person-to-person interactions by criminalizing cyberflashing. Many groups are quite pleased about this particular part of the law given the frequency with which some people – primarily women – experience this issue. 

What is Cyberflashing?

While you may not have heard the term before, the meaning of cyberflashing can be quite easily deduced from the word itself. It details a form of exposing oneself to someone else in a digital manner. In other words, a person sends nude, lewd, or obscene photos to another person without their permission. 

You may have heard this by other terms such as sending “dick picks.” In fact, one of the most common complaints about online dating for women is receiving unsolicited photos from men they match with online. The UK online safety bill attempts to address this specific concern. 

Problem with Cyberflashing Rule Identified by Bumble

Bumble, an online dating app created in an effort to give women more control of dating, has been a strong advocate for efforts to criminalize cyberflashing. They recently highlighted an aspect of the bill that may make it quite difficult to impose. 

Specifically, the bill is currently written in a manner that criminalizes cyberflashing in situations where people send images with “harmful intent.” The argument being made is that this makes it difficult to enforce. “Harmful intent” is very difficult to prove. For example, a person could simply state that they send the images as a joke or that they thought the recipient would like them. 

With the manner in which the bill is currently written, it could prove quite difficult to actually hold a person accountable for sending offensive images. This could leave the anti-cyberflashing portion of the online safety bill without any teeth. 

How Can the Cyberflashing Rule Be Fixed?

Bumble and other parties have made suggestions to the UK government for how to better craft this portion of the legislation. Specifically, they have recommended that the policy be based not on harmful intent but rather on consent. 

There are a number of reasons for this. First, consent is much easier to prove in a legal setting. A person either explicitly gave someone consent to send an image by requesting it or agreeing to receive it or they did not. While there could still be some difficult situations, the grey area is much less than when having to argue harmful intent. 

Additionally, crafting a sexual harassment law around consent would be more in line with existing laws regarding sexual violence. Thus, it seems to make sense to craft the new cyberflashing policy based on consent as well. 

Public Reaction to Cyberflashing Legislation

Cyberflashing Legislation

The majority of people in the UK note that something needs to be done regarding cyberflashing. Bumble’s argument that the government should take a consent based approach to this issue could send a stronger message that sending nudes without permission will not be tolerated. 

Bumble and other parties supporting this measure note that it is important that people realize that cyberflashing is not a joke but rather something that causes harm. The online dating app has encouraged its users to sign a pledge in support of consent based cyberflashing legislation. This pledge is also being supported by other entities such as UN Women UK. 

While the legislation is not yet complete, there is time to change the language. The coming months should tell whether the campaign by Bumble is successful in getting the language shifted from that of harmful intent to that of consent.