Journalists and democracy watchdogs have warned the online safety bill joint committee that “creating state-backed censorship of lawful communications” could prevent “democracy taking its course”.

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “There’s a reason reinventing the wheel with freedom of expression is a very dangerous thing, and detaching from the rule of law is a very dangerous thing.

The fears were echoed by the editor of Tortoise Media Matthew D’Ancona, who said: “The definition in the bill, as it stands, allows a huge latitude around what constitutes harm.

“The psychological impact seems to me to be dangerously elastic and might be taken to include anything really from something that constituted harassment under the law already, or an extract from fiction, that an individual found unsettling or traumatising.”