Par­ents’ warn­ing over law giv­ing web gi­ants duty of care

Daily Mail - - Brexit In Crisis - By Kather­ine Rush­ton Me­dia and Tech­nol­ogy Editor

FACE­BOOK, Google and Twit­ter will have a le­gal duty of care to users un­der laws due to be set out next week.

The tough mea­sure is a vic­tory for on­line safety cam­paign­ers, who want the web gi­ants to clamp down on the vile ma­te­rial on their plat­forms.

But yes­ter­day the mother of a girl who killed her­self after view­ing ‘sui­cide porn’ on Face­book spoke out. Ruth Moss, whose daugh­ter So­phie died aged 13 in 2014, was one of a group of par­ents and vic­tims who penned an emo­tional letter to the Gov­ern­ment.

They warned min­is­ters not to take a ‘half­hearted ap­proach’ in a long-awaited On­line Harms White Pa­per.

Ac­cord­ing to well-placed sources, the white pa­per will im­pose a statu­tory duty of care on tech­nol­ogy firms.

It has been de­layed due to dis­putes be­tween min­is­ters about whether it was a threat to free­dom of ex­pres­sion and whether it could pre­vent re­port­ing on se­ri­ous so­cial is­sues. In their letter, the par­ents wrote: ‘Enough is enough. Some of us are par­ents who have seen so­cial me­dia play a part in our chil­dren be­ing groomed, mur­dered, or tak­ing their own life. Some of us are vic­tims who were just chil­dren when we were cal­lously groomed on­line and left feel­ing worth­less and ashamed.’

The letter has also been signed by Gemma Ward, who was groomed and then raped by a man she met on Twit­ter when she was 15, and by Lorin LaFave whose son Beck Bad­ner was mur­dered by a groom­ing gang he met through an on­line game. The other sig­na­to­ries are Lucy Alexan­der, whose son Felix took his own life after be­ing bul­lied re­lent­lessly on­line and at school, and Danielle Ar­mitage, who was 14 when she was groomed on­line by a pae­dophile who went on to threaten her fam­ily with vi­o­lence. They spoke of their heartache and their hope that oth­ers do not ‘have to suf­fer like we have’ be­cause of weak laws.

The NSPCC has said the web gi­ants should face crim­i­nal charges and fines of up to £20mil­lion or 4 per cent of their global turnover – which­ever is larger.

In­sid­ers say the white pa­per will sug­gest that di­rec­tors of tech­nol­ogy firms are made per­son­ally li­able for ma­te­rial on their plat­forms. But it will stop short of say­ing it should def­i­nitely hap­pen, it is un­der­stood. Cam­paign­ers have also raised fears that it will not do enough to com­bat ma­te­rial that is harm­ful but tech­ni­cally le­gal.

Baroness Kidron, a lob­by­ist for child safety on­line, said: ‘Talk to teach­ers, talk to doc­tors, talk to par­ents.

‘Any­one work­ing with chil­dren un­der­stands that we have cre­ated a tech­nol­ogy that cre­ates con­flict, am­pli­fies mis­ery and turns chil­dren into un­der­age adults.

‘It doesn’t have to be like this, you could use the same tech­nol­ogy to help chil­dren flour­ish. What we are wit­ness­ing is cor­po­rate greed.

‘The white pa­per is an op­por­tu­nity to tackle it head on. It is im­por­tant to act now, and act firmly.’

A spokesman for the De­part­ment, of Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport said it will ‘set out the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of on­line plat­forms, how these re­spon­si­bil­i­ties should be met and what would hap­pen if they are not’.

They added: ‘We have heard calls for an in­ter­net reg­u­la­tor and to place a statu­tory duty of care on plat­forms.’

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