Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms

Harm (Online Harm)

Cite this article as:
Yasmin Curzi and Cynthia Khoo (17/12/2021). Harm (Online Harm). In Belli, L.; Zingales, N. & Curzi, Y. (Eds.), Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms (online). FGV Direito Rio.

Authors: Yasmin Curzi and Cynthia Khoo

Harm is the result of words, actions (or even inactions) that cause physical, emotional, or psychological damage to someone, including violencedefamation, or economic loss. This extends to potentially non-tangible damage, including driving a person or group of people to fear for their physical, emotional, or psychological safety, experience anxiousness, limit their speech, feel intimidated in their personal or professional life, or worry for their personal or professional reputation.

Harm can also scale from the personal to societal, cultural, and political realms. The UK government white paper (UK Government, 2020)1 describes “harmful content or activities” categorized into harms with a clear definition (e.g., child sexual exploitation and abuseterrorist content), less clear definitions (e.g., cyberbullying, coercive behavior, intimidation, disinformation) or those harmful if underage children are exposed to said content or activities (e.g., children accessing pornography). However, this leaves ample room for interpretation about what ‘harm’ means and who these “clear” or “less clear” content or activities harm. That leaves the content or activity to stand independently, with the reader to interpret however they choose.

Platforms have also used the word ‘harm’ as an outcome of content and activity on their platform, although, again, harm isn’t always defined clearly and can be widely debated among users. For example, Twitter’s Trust and Safety team uses the term (‘offline harm’, ‘type of potential harm’) when announcing new policies (i.e., a recent announcement to remove QAnon content, Twitter, 2020)2, but harm is then contested. For example, some users see harm to ‘freedom of speech; as outweighing potential ‘offline harms’, while others may appreciate the recognition that particular content or activity causes harm.


UK. (2019). Department for Digital Culture, Media & Sport and Home Office. Online Harms White Paper. Available at:

  1. UK. (2020). UK Government. Joint Ministerial foreword, Online Harms White Paper. Available at:
  2. Twitter. (2020) Thread on Twitter Safety

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