The father of a child who died from the negative effects of harmful online content has called for the government to speed up proposed internet safety laws.
Ian Russell, whose 14-year-old daughter Molly ended her life in 2017 after viewing scores of distressing pictures and videos, was speaking one week on from a landmark ruling that found social media had contributed to her death.
In an inquest attended by representatives from social media giants Meta and Pinterest, a senior coroner said harmful online content found on their platforms had contributed to Molly's death "in a more than minimal way."
"The age of self-regulation on internet platforms must be ended for the sake and safety of our children," Mr Russell told BBC’s Today programme on Friday.
"The politicians have said that they’ll do something about it but it still hasn’t made it out of the House of Commons," Mr Russell continued.
"There is no time for delay," he said.
Online safety bill to get third reading 'this year'
On the evening of the inquest findings, Baroness Beeban Kidron announced that she would bring forward an amendment to the online safety bill, which in its current form would require social media giants and other platforms to protect their users from harmful content.
They would face large fines and the threat of having their site blocked if they were found to breach the new rules, which will be overseen by Ofcom.
The largest platforms will also be required to combat specific types of content that have been identified as legal, but harmful, with companies expected to set out in their terms of service how they will tackle these harms.
Mr Russell said that Michelle Donelan, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), told him the bill will get a third House of Commons reading before Christmas.
Ian Russell speaks after landmark ruling on his daughter's death
"She wanted to reassure me that the government took this bill very seriously, it wasn’t going to be put on the back foot, it wasn’t going to be watered down," he said.
"In fact, they were going to strengthen measures to protect children online."
He described the bill as "very complicated" and said he believes MPs are being "very cautious"
"It’s really important that something which is illegal in the offline world must be illegal – and we must be better protected – when it’s found in the online world," he cautioned.
"And I think the hardest thing that the online safety bill is tackling is perhaps this content that's described as 'legal but harmful'."
Lawyer: 'Online Safety Bill is a 'mess''
Mr Russell's comments come as a leading digital human rights lawyer branded the bill a "mess" that needs a "total rewrite".
Dr Susie Alegre warned that the draft bill fails to address the root causes of online harm, such as the systems that recommend posts to users.
Writing a legal opinion piece, which was commissioned by consumer campaign group SumOfUs, she said that the bill's heavy focus on content moderation creates new threats to freedom of expression and privacy online.
Dr Alegre said the entire bill was poorly drafted with "broad and opaque" definitions that will make it difficult for companies to know what they are required to do.
She also said the bill as it stands is too focused on policing types of content rather than tackling the "algorithmic systems and design features" that underpin the biggest platforms.
"It not only threatens free speech, freedom of expression and privacy, but fails to do enough to tackle the real drivers of online harm, such as social media companies actively recommending posts about self-harm, which contributed to the tragic suicide of teenager Molly Russell."
A DCMS spokesperson said: "This is a completely inaccurate characterisation of the Bill, which will put much-needed responsibility on tech firms to protect children and tackle criminal activity, including for the way their algorithms drive online harm.
"The law’s focus is on tech firms’ systems and processes, not on the regulation of individual pieces of content. However ministers are considering how to further strengthen the bill’s protections for free speech."
Samaritans provides round the clock support for people when they need it most. You can call them 24 hours a day on 116 123. They also have tips if you're concerned about someone you know, and advice if you're struggling yourself
Young people who need support or have any concerns about what they have seen or heard during the inquest can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or via www.childline.org.uk
Adults concerned about a child or who needs advice about supporting a young person can contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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