Tragic Molly’s dad: Web firms still failing on suicide content
THE father of tragic teenager Molly Russell has spoken of his frustration at the ‘limited success’ of social media in removing harmful content from their sites
Ian Russell said the issue was especially true for self-harm and suicide material such as that his daughter had viewed before she took her own life aged 14.
And he called on ministers to give watchdogs stronger powers to keep on top of the rapidly changing world of the internet – saying children face danger every time they go online.
Speaking to a committee of MPs and peers who are examining the Government’s draft Online Safety Bill, he said tech giants had a tendency to respond to these dangers only when they were subject to highprofile attention.
Mr Russell, who set up the Molly Rose Foundation support charity in the wake of his daughter’s death, said: ‘It’s our experience that there’s frustratingly limited success when harmful content is requested to be removed by the platform, particularly in terms of self-harm and suicidal content.
‘This is particularly stressful for families and friends who are bereaved by suicide. And it seems only when either the news stories break in particularly public way or perhaps when perhaps regulations change that the platforms respond.’
He said the Bill needed to be ‘fleet of foot enough’ to keep up with the internet, with the laws likely to need regular updates.
But he called on online firms to step up their efforts, too. He added: ‘It’s become our view – and increasingly so – that the corporate culture at these platforms needs to change. They need to be proactive rather than reactive. And they after all have the resources and the skills to do this, but it’s so often done as an afterthought.
‘They should live up to their words about taking online safety seriously and wanting to make their platforms safer.’
Mr Russell said there were still hundreds of thousands of examples of harmful content on social media to be accessed by the young and vulnerable. ‘Just by going online, you’re dipping your toe into dangerous waters,’ he added. ‘The beach might look shallow and it might look quite calm, but it’s all too quick for you to be sucked out of your depth. A few misplaced search terms can send you to the wrong place.’
He said it was difficult for parents to keep up with each new app and platform their children were using, adding: ‘They don’t have time to look into all the safety implications of all those
‘The culture needs to change’
‘They must live up to their words’
platforms – and even if they did, their children would be one step ahead of them.’
Mr Russell said the platforms gave a ‘veneer of usability’ but beneath this was ‘20,000 pages of terms and conditions’. He called on these to be simplified.
He also said Ofcom, which will act as the regulator under the Bill, ‘definitely’ needed stronger powers to demand more data from tech companies. ‘It’s an ever-changing situation so unless they have regular access to such things it’s very difficult for them to regulate.’ Molly’s death in 2017 shocked the country and, alongside her father’s campaigning, piled pressure on the Government to bring forward legislation to regulate social media companies.
A draft of the Online Safety Bill was finally published in May. It would impose a ‘duty of care’ on the firms to remove ‘harmful content’, with the threat of fines of up to £18million.
Mr Russell has previously claimed he had ‘no doubt’ social media helped to kill his daughter after finding she had been viewing graphic posts encouraging self-harm and suicide on her Instagram account without their knowledge before her death.
A pre-inquest hearing into her death in February was told how Molly, from north-west London, used her account more than 120 times a day in the last six months of her life. nUNIVERSITIES will be advised to contact students’ families if there is genuine concern for their well-being, under new measures being put forward by Universities UK. It comes after a spate of suicides in recent years. For confidential support, call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit samaritans.org.