Molly Russell, 14, who took her own life after viewing self harm and suicide content on Instagram
Social media bosses should be held criminally liable if they do not protect children suicide and self-harm content online, the father of a teenager who took her life told MPs on Monday.
Ian Russell said the 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.”
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Mr Russell said there were safety standards, risk assessments and method statements in the offline world but they were “conspicuously absent” in online 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 ten per cent of global turnover with criminal sanctions held as a reserve power if the 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 applied offline. There should be equivalence in the online world as well.”
This required a change in the corporate responsibility from platforms. "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 also called for the firms to be compelled by law to hand over their data to enable the public to understand the effects of social media on children and the way algorithms worked to drive content towards children, as is thought to have happened with his daughter Molly.
“We are working in the dark because it is very difficult to know what research has been done on this and for wider reasons, it’s about time we had a clear picture of the effects of online on people who use it,” he said.
“It is very hard to find that because some of the research is paid for by the tech platforms. Whether or no that is a conflict of interest, there is a possibility of that.
“I would like to see the tech companies who are effectively datamining being compelled to give anonymously data so there is no data privacy issues to bona fide researchers so that up to date and constant research can be done so we know where we are with issues.”