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Molly Russell’s father wants tech firms ‘held to account’

Molly Russell’s father is raising awareness of harmful and disturbing content available to young people online Photo: Family handout/PA

The father of Molly Russell, the teenager who took her own life after viewing disturbing material online, has welcomed Government plans for tougher regulation of harmful content.

Ian Russell, who now runs the Molly Rose Foundation in memory of his daughter, said he was pleased to see the Government’s white paper include a focus on content that promote self-harm and suicide, which he called a “hidden and harmful” part of the internet.

Mr Russell has previously stated his “absolute certainty” that the content viewed by Molly on social media linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide had played a part in his daughter’s death in 2017.

“The era of self-regulation has allowed harmful content to become all too easily available online, with tragic consequences and so I welcome the White Paper published today and I am pleased to see the Government finally putting into action its promises to hold tech companies and social media platforms to account by introducing an independent regulator,” he said.

“I am glad that content promoting self-harm and suicide, which is prevalent on the internet can have a detrimental impact on mental health, is being considered alongside the well-established online dangers such as terrorism and child sexual exploitation.

“A light has been shone on this hidden and harmful part of the internet and it is important that the Government works with the tech companies and relevant organisations to remove harmful content and to continue to raise awareness among young people through better education of the dangers online and to promote the support available.”

Ian Russell, the father of Molly Russell, speaking at an event in Parliament for the NSPCC and its Wild West Web campaign Credit: Jonathan Hordle/NSPCC

Last month, Mr Russell spoke of viewing Molly’s social media accounts after her death as part of the family’s search for answers, where he said he found “sickening content” in a world where “anxiety and depression and self-harm and suicide are all normalised and encouraged”.

He urged the Government to act to prevent more young people being affected in the future.

Following the publication of the white paper, Mr Russell said the Government and the prospective new regulator must now push technology companies to respond more rapidly when dealing with inappropriate content.

“Sadly, we have already seen that the tech companies seem to be slow to act in removing content so a clear process of escalating a complaint in such cases should be established and any complaints function, whether industry or regulatory, should be effective and easy to access.

“It is vital that the regulator has sufficient powers to uphold public confidence and it should be able to impose stringent civil fines, serve notices to companies and publish public notices if it is to fulfil its role.

“During the 12-week consultation period, the impetus must be maintained if the ambition set out in this White Paper is to be turned into effective legislation which will allow the online regulator to ensure the internet will become a safer place for all.”