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Molly Russell charity welcomes 'significant move' as self-harm encouragement to be made illegal

Molly Russell, 14, took her own life in November 2017 after she had been viewing material on social media linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide. (PA)
Molly Russell, 14, took her own life in November 2017 after she had been viewing material on social media linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide. (PA)

The family of Molly Russell has welcomed a “significant move” as the government said it will criminalise the encouragement of self-harm.

The Online Safety Bill has been updated to target communications that encourage someone to physically harm themselves, making it illegal to do so. This would bring it in line with communications that encourage suicide, which are already illegal.

Culture secretary Michelle Donelan said the change was influenced by the case of Molly, the 14-year-old who ended her own life in November 2017 after viewing social media content linked to depression, self-harm and suicide.

The new measures would see social media platforms be required to remove content encouraging self-harm, and any person found to have sent such communications will face prosecution.

Watch: Monster social media products aren't safe, Molly Russell's father warns (from September)

The Molly Rose Foundation, the suicide prevention charity set up by her family in the wake of her death, said the proposal “appears a significant move”.

However, it added: “From the evidence submitted to Molly Russell’s inquest in September, the ‘harmful but legal’ content probably did the most damage to Molly’s mental health. Would this new offence prevent posts such as: ‘Who would love a suicidal girl?’ Or would these continue to be spread by the social media tech platforms?

“It’s therefore important that other ‘harmful but legal’ content, of the type we know was harmful to Molly, is also within scope of the bill.”

The Online Safety Bill has been subject to a number of delays in Parliament. It is currently at the “report stage” in the House of Commons, the fourth of 11 scrutinising processes it must go through before it can gain Royal Assent to become law.

Read more: Penny Mordaunt confirms Online Safety Bill will return to Parliament next month

The bill is due to return to Parliament next month. The self-harm measure will be included in amendments to the bill, but Donelan’s government department could not say when they would be tabled.

Other elements of the bill have led to privacy concerns, and Donelan’s fellow cabinet minister Mark Harper said on Sunday there is a “balance to strike”.

The transport secretary told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “Protecting children is very clearly what the government wants to do and then it’s dealing with the other issues, but making sure that you don’t clamp down on free speech.

“There’s a balance to strike there and the government will set out... where we’ve made decisions.”

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123.