Social Media is something that most of us use daily to keep in touch with friends, chat to family members, share photos/videos and to even advertise products or find new music. Although social media has a number of positive features and resources, for many, there’s a dark side to the easily accessible phenomenon that many of us wouldn’t think twice about while going through our day to day lives. Now, a health secretary by the name of Matt Hancock has stated that the UK could legislate against social media platforms if they don’t remove images relating to self-harm and suicide.
During a public appearance on The Andrew Marr Show, Hancock openly stated that Parliament “must act” if various social media sites don’t control the appearance of potentially harmful material. The shocking statement was made after the death of a 14-year-old girl, Molly Russell, who passed away by suicide in November 2017. Russell’s father, Ian, believes her cause of death was influenced by graphic images and bullying which encouraged self-harm which she viewed on platforms including Pinterest and Instagram. “There’s no doubt that Instagram played a part in Molly’s death,” Russels father stated to the Times in an interview.
Additionally, Russel’s father continued to further criticise social media and it’s algorithms which may have exposed her to an increased amount of troubling imagery, saying that she may have been more prone to seeing an increase in the imagery due to her previous findings. In a statement, he said, “In the same way that someone who has shown an interest in a particular sport may be shown more and more posts about that sport, the same can be true of topics such as self-harm or suicide.”
Speaking to Marr about legislating against such images, Hancock said, “I think that lots of people feel powerless in this situation, but of course we can act.” He continued, “It would be far better to do it in concert with the social media companies, but if we think they need to do something that they’re refusing to do, then we can and we must legislate.” He then went on to express, “We must act to make sure that this amazing technology is used for good, not leading to young girls taking their own lives.” When Marr asked if that could include banning social media sites, or raising their taxes, Hancock said, “Parliament does have that sanction.” He added, “It’s not where I’d like to end up in terms of banning them, because of course there’s a great positive to social media too. But we run our country through Parliament, and we will and we must act if we have to.”
In a letter to social media platforms including Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Facebook, which owns Instagram, Hancock wrote, “We must act now, so technology is seen to improve lives, and stop it causing harm.” Hancock, as quoted in the Times, continued, “This is a critical moment — as a supporter of digital technology, I don’t want the benefits of technology to be lost because of reasonable concerns about its risks. But most importantly, I don’t want another family to have to go through the agony of losing a child this way.”
Digital minister Margot James is scheduled to make a speech at a conference for Safer Internet Day, saying: “The tragic death of Molly Russell is the latest consequence of a social media world that behaves as if it is above the law. There is far too much bullying, abuse, misinformation as well as serious and organised crime online. For too long the response from many of the large platforms has fallen short.”We are working towards the publication of the final policy paper, and consultation, before bringing in a new regulatory regime. We will introduce laws that force social media platforms to remove illegal content, and to prioritise the protection of users beyond their commercial interests.”