The Daily Telegraph

Harmful content

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The death of Molly Russell in 2017 focused fresh attention on the activities of social media companies and their baleful impact on vulnerable young people. Molly was just 14 when she took her own life after viewing material about self-harm, suicide and depression, on sites such as Instagram and Pinterest.

An inquest is only now getting under way, with internet company executives expected to give evidence about whether their algorithms encourage dangerous online activity. Molly’s father Ian said he hoped the hearing will help produce the change that’s needed to keep people safe, to keep people alive.

That is best achieved through regulation, and the Online Safety Bill was designed to do just that but has run into difficulty. What started as a wellintent­ioned piece of legislatio­n to protect children morphed into a much wider measure that threatened to curb free speech. At one point there were calls for it to be withdrawn but this has been resisted by the Government, which promises “tweaks” instead. Michelle Donelan, the Culture Secretary, says the Bill will return to the Commons with amendments to address fears that tech firms will censor legitimate content because it is not deemed “acceptable”.

It may have taken five years for the inquest to be held but that is also how long the Government has spent considerin­g its legislatio­n. Surely, just as newspapers cannot publish material that would damage children and would be excoriated if they did, online media companies need to be held to account for directing children towards inappropri­ate or harmful content. This should not have been as difficult as it turned out.

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