LONDON – The UK government could bring in legislation to ban material promoting self-harm and suicide on social media, the Health Secretary warned. Matt Hancock also said the government could ultimately ban social media firms if they did not take sufficient action.
UK Government ‘Can and we Must Legislate’
Speaking to the BBC political talk show The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr. Hancock said: “If we think [social media companies] need to do things they are refusing to do, then we can and we must legislate.” Mr. Hancock, a former Secretary of State for Digital, said that while ultimately Parliament does have the “sanction” to ban social media, “it’s not where I’d like to end up.”
The UK Health Secretary’s comments followed the suicide of 17-year-old Molly Russell. She took her own life in 2017, having viewed content about suicide on social media. Her parents blame services such as Instagram and Pinterest for her death. Her father, Ian Russell, told the Sunday Times that “Pinterest has a huge amount to answer for.” Mr. Hancock said he was “desperately concerned to ensure young people are protected.”
Letter to Social Media Companies
In a letter to Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Apple, Google and Facebook, Mr Hancock 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. It is time for internet and social media providers to step up and purge this content once and for all.”
“Lots of parents feel powerless in the face of social media. But we are not powerless. Both government and social media providers have a duty to act,” he wrote.
Mr. Hancock said that the government will also put forward a White Paper, the start of the UK legislative process addressing “online harms. It will include discussion on suicide and self-harm content.