Health secretary Matt Hancock is set to announce today that online tech giants like Facebook, Snapchat and Google will work alongside Samaritans experts to address “worrying growth” of harmful content online.
Technological developments will be made to identify such content with the view to removing it straight away, with some material thought to be promoting self-harm and even suicide.
The plan to work with Samaritans comes three weeks after the government announced it would force tech giants to take responsibility for harmful content disseminated on their networks and is in response to the death of Molly Russell, a 14-year-old who took her own life in 2017 after viewing self-harm material on Instagram.
Following Molly’s tragic death, Sky News found a month after Instagram vowed to remove all graphic images of self-harm from its network in response, that Instagram was still displaying disturbing and harmful content.
Speaking ahead of the latest meeting on online harms, Sky News reported that Mr Hancock said he wanted the UK to be the safest place to be online to give parents the confidence they need to know their children are safe on social media.
“As set out in our Online Harms white paper, the government will legislate to tackle harmful content online, but we will also work with social media companies to act now.
“I was very encouraged at our last summit that social media companies agreed normalising or glamorising of eating disorders, suicide and self-harm on social media platforms is never acceptable and the proliferation of this material is causing real harm,” he added.
Also acknowledging the extent of the “worrying growth of dangerous online content” is chief executive of the Samaritans, Ruth Sutherland.
The suicide and self-harm expert outlined there was no black and white solution that protects the public from self-harm and suicide content because of how complex and specific the issues are.
She said: “That is why we need to work together with tech platforms to identify and remove harmful content whilst being extremely mindful that sharing certain content can be an important source of support for some.
“This partnership marks a collective commitment to learn more about the issues, build knowledge through research and insights from users and implements changes that can ultimately save lives.”