Next government must tighten up Online Safety Act – Molly Russell’s father

Ian Russell, whose 14-year-old daughter Molly took her own life after viewing harmful material on social media, said being made an MBE was “for my family, and that family still includes Molly”.

Mr Russell and his family set up the Molly Rose Foundation suicide prevention charity and he also contributed to the establishment of the Online Safety Bill after his daughter took her own life in November 2017.

The 60-year-old was made an MBE for his services to child safety by the Prince of Wales at Windsor Castle on Wednesday.

Molly Russell inquest
Molly Russell who took her own life in November 2017 (Handout/PA)

Speaking before Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a General Election would be held on July 4, Mr Russell said the next government would need to tighten up the Online Safety Act – which was passed by Parliament in 2023 – to ensure it was a “really effective piece of legislation” which tackled the cumulative effect a feed of social media content might have.

“One of the most important areas is to stop thinking about an individual post as to whether or not it’s harmful and start considering how a feed of content that anyone using may see, often algorithmically recommended, is or isn’t harmful,” he said.

“One post on its own might be okay but, if that’s combined with others, it can very quickly become harmful. And that sort of cumulative harm is legislated for in the Bill.

“But I think those clauses in the Bill will need to be tightened up in order to make it a really effective piece of legislation.

“And that’s what the next government has to really do. It can’t think of the Act is something that’s done and is already on the shelf.”

Investitures at Windsor Castle
Ian Russell with the Prince of Wales at Windsor Castle (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Mr Russell said he shared his honour with everyone involved in the suicide prevention charity.

“I feel I share this award with everyone who has helped, particularly the people who have worked and volunteered for the Molly Rose Foundation, the charity that we’ve set up in Molly’s name,” he said.

“Their support and the efforts that we’ve collectively put together in order to raise awareness and to call for more effective regulation and to support young people has been amazing.”

He continued: “But, of course, I suppose most of all it’s for my family, and that family still includes Molly.”

Mr Russell said he could “picture” that Molly would have enjoyed the day at Windsor Castle and would have been “proud” of the recognition he had received.

“Molly’s two sisters were here today, and both enjoyed today, and I can picture Molly would have enjoyed today,” he said.

“I think she’d be very proud of the work that everyone’s doing in her name, because she was one of the most caring people I’ve ever known.

“She’d be wanting to raise awareness and to make the Bill safer, and to do what she could to help. So I’m sure she’d be proud too.”

He added: “She has been in the back of my mind today, as well.”

“Given what’s happened, knowing Molly as her father, and knowing how caring she was as a person, and how much she looked after the people around her and did what she could to help them, this is exactly what she’d be doing if she was around today.

“She’d be helping people to be safe and be supported, and be looked after.”

Investitures at Windsor Castle
Ian Russell said he shares his MBE with everyone at the Molly Rose Foundation (Andrew Matthews/PA)

He said being made an MBE was “recognition of a problem that everyone faces. Every parent in the land with teenage children is concerned.

“We’ve seen a huge groundswell of opinion recently, where parents have expressed their frustrations that the online world isn’t safe enough for their children.

“And that’s for a reason, because it needs to be safer, and children are suffering currently, because it’s not safe enough.

“So this award, for me, is a sign that that work is important and that raising awareness about this issue is important. Because that’s what might help save lives in the future.”

Mr Russell said that he believed the Online Safety Bill’s “teeth hadn’t bit” yet but that “by this time next year, the effects of the Online Safety Act should be being felt.”

Mr Russell added: “In the five and a half years since Molly has died, more and more families are aware of potential dangers that can be found online.

“More and more families are therefore having conversations, parents and children and children to parents about what they can do to be safe online.

“And I think that raising of awareness is really important, because the hardest thing if you’re a young person who’s feeling compromised or feeling vulnerable, is to somehow find the courage to speak perhaps to your parents about it. Because your parents can get you support.”