DUP MP Sammy Wilson has shown his support for the NSPCC’s campaign to regulate tech firms as parents tell of the devastating effects of social media on their children’s lives.
Mr Wilson was one of 30 MPs who attended the Houses of Parliament this week (Monday, March 11) for the NSPCC’s event on its Wild West Web campaign.
For the last year, the children’s charity has been calling on the UK Government to make social networks legally responsible for protecting children on their sites. To date, the Wild West Web petition has been signed by 36,699 people, including at least 1,066 from Northern Ireland.
Parents, experts and MPs spoke at the event about why keeping children safe could no longer be left to social networks, because for more than a decade tech firms had failed to follow their own rules and prioritise safeguarding on their sites.
In just 18 months, police in England and Wales recorded more than 5,000 grooming offences. Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat were used in 70 per cent of the instances where police noted the grooming method.
In Northern Ireland, PSNI figures show that sexual communication with a child crimes have more than doubled from April – Sept 2017 compared to the same period in 2018, rising from 27 to 57 recorded offences.
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, told MPs it was essential that the UK Government’s imminent Online Harms White Paper included plans to bring in a statutory regulator that imposed a legal duty of care to children on social networks.
He said: “Abusers use social networks to target children, to manipulate them into swapping pictures or performing sex acts over livestreams. Regulation could stop this abuse from ever happening in the first place. We’ve reached the point where it is obvious social networks cannot be relied upon to design essential child protection into their services.
“The need for regulation is undeniable. It is needed urgently to hold social networks to account. This is an opportunity to be on the right side of history. This is an opportunity to achieve safety by design instead of continually reacting to a succession of tragedies.”
Ian Russell, whose 14-year-old daughter Molly killed herself after viewing graphic images of self-harm and suicide on Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube, spoke about his experience. After her death, Ian, with family and friends, set up the Molly Rose Foundation to help prevent suicide in young people.
Ian said: “It was too harrowing to spend long looking at the actual posts that Molly had viewed – posts that, I can say with absolute certainty, played a part in deepening Molly’s depression and persuading her to end her own life.
“For companies like Instagram saving a life is as straightforward as changing an algorithm – and every one of us has the power to save lives too. To save lives, we must stop this social media suicide storm. “Now is the time for the UK Government to bring in effective internet regulation with strong sanctions as back-up.”
Another parent, Wendy, told how her 13-year-old daughter had been being groomed on Facebook and Snapchat and sexually abused by a man in his 20s.
Wendy said: “As parents, all we ever wanted was for our children to be happy, healthy, loved and safe. We thought we were one step ahead with regards to online safety. I am guilty of reading articles in the news about children, where they have experienced abuse, grooming, and worse. I have found myself asking “where were the parents? How could they allow this to happen?
“Then one day, it happened to me, to us, to our daughter and to my family. There needs to be a duty of care that requires social media companies to proactively identify perpetrators that are grooming our children. We are living with our daughter’s ordeal each and every day, let’s ensure other children do not have to go through this.”
To help end the Wild West Web please sign the NSPCC petition here.