Thank you for contacting me about suicide and self-harm prevention and the campaign from Samaritans for better measures in the Online Safety Bill.
I completely agree it is important to take suicide and mental ill-health seriously, it’s an issue I’ve been campaigning on for some time now. Suicide is both a public health and a social inequality issue but with the right interventions, it is preventable.
I believe big social media companies have been left unchecked and unregulated, leading to the hosting of growing levels of dangerous content, including material on self-harm and suicide. It concerns me that the business model of such platforms is driven by algorithms serving up increasingly extreme content which in turn drives extreme behaviours such as self-harm.
As you know, the draft Online Safety Bill was published in May. The Government says it is a key priority which will require in-scope companies to remove and limit illegal content online which encourages or incites suicide. Those companies providing services with high-risk functions and with the largest audiences will also be required to act against legal but harmful content such as material relating to self-harm or suicide.
However, I am concerned the Online Safety Bill is disappointingly unambitious and incomplete.
This is an opportunity to implement future-proofed legislation with an effective and all-encompassing regulatory framework to keep people safe online by tackling legal but harmful content and those dangerous elements of the Internet with real world consequences. I do not believe the proposals do enough to keep people safe or to incentivise companies to prevent their platforms from being used for harmful practices.
Despite this legislation being long overdue, the Government has failed to keep their promise to bring forward the online harms bill before Christmas. The government must now urgently act to strengthen its proposals and bring them to parliament to prevent more and more people becoming victims online.
I know the Law Commission has also recommended the creation of a legal offence of encouraging or assisting acts of serious self-harm as part of its consultation on harmful online communications. I completely support this and will throughout the Bill.
I can assure you I will continue to demand better legislation that forces a proper duty of care on social media companies about what they host on their platforms, and for criminal penalties for senior tech executives who repeatedly breach the new law.