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Tackling Harmful Online Content


Back in mid-January 2020, the Royal College of Psychiatrists called on ministers to put pressure on social media firms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to release data concerning users and the content they are viewing. The RCP stated this data was vital as part of a strategy to reduce suicide among children and young people.

Ministers had already taken steps to reduce harmful online content, but far more is needed. There are plans to set up an online safety regulator but unless the government can persuade (or force) firms to hand over data this regulator will be working with one hand tied behind their back! According to the RCP, obtaining the data from social media companies is vital if we are to understand the types of content being viewed and level of harm this content exposes young people to.

Isn’t it time the government put the needs of the young and vulnerable ahead of the multi-billion dollar, social media giants? We need to know what young people are viewing and how they interact with social media and other online content. There are too many websites promoting self-harm and suicide and up until now we have relied on social media companies to regulate themselves. Clearly this is not working. We only have to look at the suicide of 14-year old Molly Russell in 2017 to realise firm action is needed.

As part of Safer Internet Day 11th February 2020 we need to join the RCP in calling for social media firms to take responsibility for the information available via their websites — they must hand over this data without delay. We do not want any more young people to suffer!