Hancock warns social media sites to remove harmful content or face new legislation
Health secretary writes letter after families accuse internet firms of hosting material promoting self-harm
Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images
Health secretary Matt Hancock has warned social media firms, including Instagram and Pintrest, that he would not hesitate to legislate if they did not do more to protect users from being targeted with content encouraging self-harm.
The warning comes after thirty families accused the tech companies of hosting content which they believe played a part in the death of their children.
In a letter to social media firms reminding them of their responsibilities, Hancock called on them to take urgent action.
“I welcome that you have already taken important steps, and developed some capabilities to remove harmful content. But I know you will agree that more action is urgently needed,” he said. “It is appalling how easy it still is to access this content online and I am in no doubt about the harm this material can cause, especially for young people.”
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Hancock added: “It is time for internet and social media providers to step up and purge this content once and for all. I want to work with internet and social media providers to ensure the action is as effective as possible. However, let me be clear that we will introduce legislation where needed.”
The intervention from the health secretary comes ahead of a government white paper on the potential harms caused by online content, including the risk of self-harm and suicide.
The health secretary said: “I feel the fear of a parent that our children can be torn away from us, aided by new technology. So, I am determined to do what is necessary to stop teenagers falling into a suicide trap. We must act now, so technology is seen to improve lives, and stop it causing harm. 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.”
An Instagram spokesperson said: “We work with expert groups who… tell us that the sharing of a person’s mental health journey can be an important part of recovery. This is why we don’t remove certain content and instead offer people looking at, or posting is, support messaging that directs people to groups that can help.”
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