Web firms should clampdown on ‘wild west’ of harmful content, says Jackie Doyle-Price

editorial image
Have your say

Social media firms should clamp down on internet trolls and harmful content to stop the “wild west” nature of the internet, the country’s first suicide prevention minister has said.

Jackie Doyle-Price said companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter should help bring about a “cultural change” which would mean online trolling would be deemed as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.

The Conservative MP said she wants more emphasis on removing worrying content like hurtful comments and self-harm videos to make the online world less toxic. She said: “I’m afraid we have come to tolerate behaviour online which we would not be tolerated in the streets.

“My overall objective is to get to a place where the environment online is as safe as physically. Ultimately we all as users have a role to play in that.

“I often compare it with drink-driving. For 30 years, it was entirely socially acceptable to get in your car after having three or four pints and driving home.

“That was socially acceptable despite being illegal. Today, society just wouldn’t tolerate that, they would have a very dim view of people prepared to take that risk with other people’s lives.”

A consultation is under way over how to make users safer on the internet. The Online Harms White Paper proposes new duty of care towards users, overseen by an independent regulator.

Companies will be held to account for tackling illegal activity and content to behaviours which are harmful but not necessarily illegal, the Government said.

Failure to fulfil this duty of care will result in enforcement action such as a company fine or individual liability on senior management.

Social media companies and the Government have been under pressure to act following the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell in 2017. The schoolgirl’s family found material relating to depression and suicide when they looked at her Instagram account following her death.

Social media companies have been summoned to Whitehall for behind-closed-doors meetings with ministers and campaigners in an effort to tackle online harms. Discussions have resulted in Instagram agreeing to ban graphic images of self-harm from its platform. Ged Flynn, chief executive of suicide prevention charity Papyrus, said: “Too many families lose a child to suicide after researching method online.

“Suicide, the leading cause of young deaths in the UK, is always complex, but online access to dangerous information about suicide and self-harm clearly makes things worse for many young vulnerable minds.”

Meanwhile, Google executives have hit back at suggestions the company is not doing enough to tackle child abuse images online.

Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president for global affairs and the firm’s chief legal officer, said the company had spent years fighting the issue. I think we have taken significant measure for many years - since the earliest times of the company - to deal with the scourge of child sexual abuse material online,” he said.

“We have teams devoted to identifying it and removing it from Google search and other platforms.

“We have worked with the government quite closely to get their input, including a variety of both governmental and quasi-governmental groups to be able to make sure that we are not just identifying it but reporting it to appropriate authorities so that they can take action against the people who are propagating this kind of material.”