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Molly Russell coroner calls for separate social media platforms for children and adults

Tech companies and the government should introduce stricter age verification measures and isolate minors from adults on social media platforms, a UK coroner has recommended following an inquest into the teenager’s death Molly Russell.

Senior Coroner Andrew Walker said in a report [pdf] sent to the government and four social media companies – Meta, Pinterest, Twitter and Snapchat – that there should be a review of harmful online content, which should take into account age-specific content, the use of algorithms and advertising aimed at children.

Mr Walker expressed concern that guardians or parents are not able to review the content that young people are watching.

The ‘prevention of future deaths’ report came after Walker determined in September that Molly Russell took her own life in November 2017 following what she saw on social media.

The 14-year-old from Harrow, north London, has taken her own life after viewing thousands of posts about self-harm, depression and suicide on platforms including Instagram and Pinterest. Some of these messages seen by Molly Russell were recommended to her by algorithms.

Mr Walker said she died ‘of an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content’.

In his latest report, the coroner recommends that the government review the offer of online platforms to children.

He said that as part of this assessment, social media companies and the government should consider

  • separate sites for children and adults
  • verify a user’s age before signing up to the platform
  • provide age-appropriate materials
  • use of algorithms to deliver content
  • exposure of children to advertising
  • control and monitoring by parents or other adults, including access to a child’s social media accounts

“I recommend that consideration be given to the creation of an independent regulatory body to monitor the content of online platforms,” ​​Walker said in his report.

Meta, Pinterest, Twitter and Snapchat received notifications

Instagram, Meta, Pinterest and the two other social media sites Molly used before her death – Snapchat and Twitter – all received notices from the coroner.

Additionally, the report was sent to Michelle Donelan, the Culture Secretary, and Ofcom, the UK communications regulator tasked with enforcing the Online Safety Bill if and when it passes.

Meta, Pinterest, Twitter and Snapchat must respond by Dec. 8 detailing what action they intend to take or explaining why they are not taking action.

The coroner said that while all regulation “would be a matter for the government, I see no reason why the platforms themselves would not wish to consider self-regulation”.

Ian Russell, Molly’s father, said he welcomed the coroner’s report and urged social media companies to ‘heed the coroner’s words and not drag their feet pending legislation and regulation’ .

“The government must also act urgently to put in place its strict regulation of social media platforms to ensure that children are protected from the effects of harmful online content, and that platforms and their senior management expose themselves to heavy penalties if they fail to take steps to curb the algorithmic amplification of destructive and extremely dangerous content or fail to remove it promptly,” Russell said.

“I hope this will be implemented quickly through the Online Safety Bill which needs to be passed as soon as possible.”

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