Mental health: Social media firms ‘should purge’ distressing content

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Media captionAfter Molly Russell took her own life, her family discovered distressing material about suicide on her Instagram account

Social media firms must “purge” the internet of harmful content promoting self-harm and suicide, the health secretary has said.

Matt Hancock’s message comes after the father of a teenager who took her own life said he believes Instagram “helped kill my daughter”.

Molly Russell, 14, took her own life in 2017 after viewing disturbing content about suicide on social media.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, has said it was “deeply sorry”.

The internet giant said graphic content which sensationalises self-harm and suicide “has no place on our platform”.

But Mr Hancock said he was “horrified” to learn of Molly’s death and feels “desperately concerned to ensure young people are protected”.

In a letter sent to social media companies, the minister “welcomed” steps already taken by firms but said “more action is urgently needed”.

He wrote: “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.”

He added that the government is developing a white paper addressing “online harms”, and said it will look at content on suicide and self-harm.

Molly was found dead in her bedroom in November 2017 after showing “no obvious signs” of severe mental health issues.

Her family later found she had been viewing material on social media linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide.