Social media demon: UK judges have already shown they don’t recognise how these people harm others – so is the new Online Safety legislation nothing more than a dead letter?
The father of a girl who took her own life after viewing content that may be described as harmful has said a new law to police the internet will fail if it does not stop this material being seen.
In that case, it seems doomed to be a dead letter.
Molly Russell took her own life after viewing suicide and self-harm content that induced her to harm herself. A coroner concluded that she died while suffering from the “negative effects” of online content.
So Molly died under the influence of what other – irresponsible – people published on the social media.
The Online Harms Bill is intended to prevent people like them from publishing material that could cause such harm to other impressionable viewers.
But how can it do that when some harms are not acknowledged by UK law?
I was involved in a court case in which an argument between a TV celebrity and a young girl with anxiety-based mental illness led to the girl receiving a high volume of abuse that caused her extreme distress.
She was pushed into an extreme emotional state under the influence of what other – irresponsible – people published on the social media. You comprehend the similarity, I hope.
She was not induced into self-harm, but she was put in fear of being harmed by others.
But the court case showed that the law does not recognise the potential for harm in what happened to this girl.
Her dialogue with the TV celebrity was labelled as nothing more than a misunderstanding, and the threatening messages she received were said to have had nothing to do with that contact.
So it seems to me that, even after this Bill becomes law, vulnerable people will still be in danger of distress, torment and ultimately harm – because my case has created a precedent for judges to ignore the connections between what is posted online and the effect it has on real people.
I dread the day my fear is proved accurate.
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