The Daily Telegraph

Tech firms have failed to act on suicide images, says father


SOCIAL media bosses should be held criminally liable if they fail to protect children from suicide and self-harm content online, the father of a teenager who took her life told MPS yesterday.

Ian Russell said social media companies had failed to clean up their act since his daughter Molly, 14, took her life after viewing self-harm and suicide images on Instagram more than two years ago.

He told MPS and peers on the committee considerin­g the Government’s draft new duty-of-care laws that parents had had “frustratin­gly limited success” when they asked social media platforms to remove self-harm and suicidal content.

“This is particular­ly stressful for families and friends bereaved by suicide,” he said. “It seems only when news stories break or when regulation­s change that the platforms respond.”

Mr Russell said there were safety standards, risk assessment­s and method statements in the offline world but they were “conspicuou­sly absent” in social media platforms.

He urged the Government to go further in its proposed new laws with tougher sanctions and stricter disclosure rules on the social media firms to make them more transparen­t. The maximum penalty currently proposed in the draft laws is 10 per cent of global turnover with criminal sanctions held as a reserve power if tech giants fail to improve.

But Mr Russell said: “In all this legislatio­n, what is most important is that we mirror in the online world what is in the offline world. That is what is missing at the moment. Sixteen years of social media and 30 years of the internet has led us to a place where there isn’t a mirror of accepted normal standards that is

‘Criminal liability for senior managers is important because of the need to push to make change happen’

applied offline. There should be equivalenc­e in the online world as well.”

This required a change in corporate responsibi­lity from platforms, he said.

“That’s why I would say criminal liability for senior managers is important because of the need to push hard and quickly in a big impetus to make that change happen,” he said.

He called for firms to be compelled by law to hand over data to enable the public to understand the effects of social media on children and the way algorithms drive content towards them.

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