Health secretary threatens social media giants with bans unless they remove posts promoting suicide and self-harm after more families accuse sites of contributing to their children’s deaths
- Health Secretary wants social media giants to crack down on ‘suicide porn’
- Matt Hancock threatens companies with a range of regulations and higher taxes
- He said they could be introduced as last-resort measures if internet giants do not introduce additional voluntary measures
Social media companies could be banned unless they remove dangerous posts that promote self-harm and suicide, the Health Secretary said yesterday.
In a strong intervention, Matt Hancock warned them that a range of regulations and even higher taxes will be imposed unless they crack down on the blight of ‘suicide porn’.
His threats came after 30 families accused the social media companies of contributing to their children’s deaths by failing to remove distressing posts that are easily accessible online.
Matt Hancock told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show that further taxes and bans could be introduced as last-resort measures if the internet giants do not introduce additional voluntary measures
The growing problem was highlighted last week when father Ian Russell accused Instagram, the social network owned by Facebook, of playing a part in the suicide of his daughter Molly, 14.
Mr Hancock, a father of three young children, said: ‘I was horrified to learn of Molly’s tragic story. Lots of parents feel powerless in the face of social media. But we are not powerless – both Government and social media firms have a duty to act to protect children online.’
He wrote to companies including Twitter, Google, Facebook and Apple this weekend saying: ‘I know you will agree that more action is urgently needed.’
Molly Russell, 14, took her own life in November 2017. Molly had shown no signs of depression, and it was only after her death that her family discovered she had been viewing dangerous content online
How Instagram tormented me as I battled against anorexia
Katie Holloway, 25, said her account was flooded with posts promoting anorexia after she made some simple searches about fitness and healthy living while at university
A woman who believes her eating disorder was fuelled by social media has called on Instagram to crack down on images of self-harm.
Katie Holloway, 25, said her account was flooded with posts promoting anorexia after she made some simple searches about fitness and healthy living while at university.
She said she had wanted ‘to lose weight, to be a bit healthier’ – but was quickly sucked into a dark underworld in which users would revel in highlighting dangerous weight loss.
‘I turned to things on the internet that would spur me on to lose even more weight,’ she said, adding: ‘One example would be a picture of a girl’s torso and she was very skinny, you could see her bones.
‘But then the caption would be ‘I’m so fat’ … so then you would think ‘oh my God I’m still overweight’.’
Over 12 months Miss Holloway, who now works at a law firm in London, lost three-and-a-half stone – but she stresses that she did not see herself as the most severe case.
Despite pro-anorexia material being banned under Instagram rules, Miss Holloway said it was easy to find images.
‘You come to find ways to find stuff,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t difficult when I was poorly to get access … I know that I have searched things even when I’ve been well into recovery and been able to find stuff.’
She said there is no doubt that social media amplified her illness, adding: ‘Honestly it [the anorexia] would not have been as bad in the sense that I would not have felt as self-critical. Anything like that should be banned.’
An Instagram spokesman said: ‘We do not allow content that promotes or glorifies eating disorders and use technology to remove it.’
He added: ‘It is appalling how easy it still is to access this content online and I am in no doubt about the harm this material can cause, especially for young people. It is time for internet and social media providers to step up and purge this content once and for all.’
He told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show that further taxes and bans could be introduced as last-resort measures if the internet giants do not introduce additional voluntary measures.
Charities urged the Government to ‘turn words into action’, after dozens of previous threats against web giants failed to become concrete measures.
Ged Flynn, chief executive of suicide prevention charity Papyrus, said: ‘If it takes regulation, then do it. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t win votes, this is about saving lives. We need to make this a priority by getting them [social media companies] into a room and saying, ‘Convince us not to regulate’.’
Papyrus said 30 families have come forward after reading of Molly’s death, concerned that social media had been involved in their children’s suicides.
Six social media firms will be asked by a coroner to hand over information about what images Molly was looking at as part of the inquest into her death in November 2017.
Father accuses internet scrapbook Pinterest of playing part in his 14-year-old daughter’s suicide
Molly Russell’s father yesterday accused social media company Pinterest of playing a part in the 14-year-old’s suicide.
Ian Russell said the internet scrapbook website used emails to promote troubling images to his daughter.
One which was sent after her death included a picture of a thigh that had apparently been cut, alongside quotations such as: ‘I can’t tell you how many times I wish I was dead.’
Her father Ian Russell, pictured, believes his daughter, who went to bed in a good mood, decided to kill herself after looking at troubling images that night
Another post within the same email read: ‘What’s wrong with me? All I think about is hurting myself and how terrible my self-image is.’
Pinterest allows users to post images online and sends them automated emails with suggestions for posts they may find interesting based on what they previously viewed.
Mr Russell, 55, told the Sunday Times: ‘They are actually emailing pictures of self-harm, so Pinterest have a lot to answer for.’
Pinterest told the newspaper: ‘We’re committed to doing everything possible to … prevent the spread of potentially harmful content.’
Molly had shown no signs of depression, and it was only after her death that her family discovered she had been viewing dangerous content online.
TV director Mr Russell, 55, of Harrow, north-west London, believes his daughter, who went to bed in a good mood, decided to kill herself after looking at troubling images that night. She used her phone to access the picture-sharing app Instagram in her room.
‘Something after she went to bed was the final straw,’ he told the Sunday Times. ‘The only thing she had access to were [her iPhone and iPod Touch]. What had triggered her?’
Instagram said it was conducting a ‘full review’ into how it polices images depicting self-harm, suicide and eating disorders.
A spokesman said: ‘We do not allow content that promotes or encourages eating disorders, self-harm or suicide and use technology to find and remove it.’
For confidential support, log on to samaritans.org or call the Samaritans on 116123.