Molly Russell’s father calls for regulation of social media

Undated family handout photo of Molly Russell, 14, who took her own life in November 2017. Social media firms need to
Undated family handout photo of Molly Russell, 14, who took her own life in November 2017. Social media firms need to "purge" the internet of harmful content that promotes self-harm and suicide, the Health Secretary has said.

The father of Molly Russell has urged the Government to introduce regulation on social media platforms in order to make the internet a “safer place, especially for the young”.

Ian Russell’s 14-year-old daughter was found to have viewed content on social media linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide before taking her own life in November 2017.

Speaking at an event in Parliament for the NSPCC and its Wild West Web campaign, which is calling for regulation of social networks, Mr Russell said technology giants had been allowed to self-regulate for too long.

“The tech captains still seem to be heading in the wrong direction, driving ever deeper into Silicon Valley.

“Up until now they have chosen their own course. Governments have allowed social media platforms to be self-regulated, but remember this really is a matter of life and death and it’s getting worse,” he said.

“Now is the time for the UK Government to bring effective internet regulation, with strong sanctions as back-up.

“Now is the time for the UK to lead the world in making the online world a safer place, especially for the young.

Ian Russell speaks at the NSPCC's Wild West Web event
Ian Russell speaks at the NSPCC’s Wild West Web event (Jonathan Hordle/NSPCC)

“The law in this country is very clear – anyone who encourages self-harm or suicide on or offline, through imagery or words, verbal or written, is complicit.”

He said his family’s search for answers following his daughter’s death had led him to view her social media accounts, where he said he found “sickening content” in a world where “anxiety and depression and self-harm and suicide are all normalised and encouraged”.

“It was too harrowing to spend long looking at the actual posts that Molly had viewed, posts that I can say with absolute certainty played a part in deepening Molly’s depression and persuading her to end her own life,” he said.

Mr Russell, who has since set up a suicide prevention charity called the Molly Rose Foundation, said MPs now had the opportunity to better protect the young and vulnerable.

Directly addressing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Instagram boss Adam Mosseri, Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann and Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Mr Russell said “inaction” would no longer be tolerated.

“I know few will disagree when I say to Mr Zuckerberg, Mr Mosseri, Mr Silbermann and Mr Cook, you all have a moral duty of care to protect our children. You all must act now to stop the harm of other vulnerable people.

“For 10 years we have waited for your tech companies to take action, but only been met by inaction. We cannot wait any longer.

“It’s time for social media platforms to be held accountable, it’s time for social networks to ensure their platforms are a safe place for our young people and our vulnerable people.

“It’s too late for Molly, but the people in this room have the power to stop harmful content reaching our children.”

Mr Russell also criticised Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement of his plans to increase privacy and encryption on Facebook, warning that such a move will only “make investigating such cases even harder and provide more opportunities for grooming – whether that be sexual or suicidal”.

His comments were supported by minister for digital and creative industries Margot James, who said a duty of care was needed to be placed upon internet companies.

She also confirmed an expected Government white paper on online harms and social media regulation will be published later this month.

Digital minister Margot James
Margot James confirmed a Government white paper on online harms and social media regulation will be published later this month (Jonathan Hordle/NSPCC)

Ms James said it will set out “clear expectations” for companies on how they should keep their users safe.

“We in government have a duty to act in a way which will compel, as well as encourage companies, to put the protection of children and the security of users at the heart of their corporate culture,” she said.

“What’s unacceptable offline has to have the same unacceptability and the sanctions and the force of law behind it online, just as it does offline.

“We now have the opportunity and the determination to ensure that those already online and those who will grow up online are able to make the best possible use of everything good and all the opportunities that the internet offers, without facing those unacceptable risks.”

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