At Samaritans we believe it's important to create a suicide-safer internet for everyone, while still making sure the support the internet provides remains available.
After five years of determined pressure, we finally welcomed the Online Safety Act becoming law in October 2023.
This important moment for suicide prevention will:
- Require all platforms to think about how they manage illegal suicide and self-harm content
- Require extra protections for under 18s for all harmful suicide and self-harm content
- Allow for platforms that aren’t as big as some of the most well-known sites to be included in the regulations if they host harmful suicide and self-harm content
- Create a new offence of maliciously encouraging or assisting self-harm – in every nation of the UK
Why is this so important?
The internet has the potential to be a powerful tool for suicide prevention. It can provide a space of belonging, offering an opportunity to connect with other people who have similar experiences. One study of an online peer support forum found almost a third of participants experienced a decrease in the intensity of their suicidal thoughts through these interactions.
On the other hand, there’s also suicide or self-harm content online that can be harmful, such as detailed information on how to take your own life. While suicide and self-harm is complex and rarely caused by one thing, in many cases the internet is involved: a 2017 inquiry into suicides of young people found suicide-related internet use in 26% of deaths in under-20s, and 13% of deaths in 20–24-year-olds.
The importance of the internet’s role in suicide prevention means it’s vital for online platforms to take responsibility for both protecting supportive spaces and preventing harmful content.
Samaritans Online Excellence Programme was established in 2019 to promote consistently high standards across the sector to make the internet a safer place and contributing to the aim of reducing deaths by suicide. The Programme consists of a research and insight programme, the development of industry guidelines, a hub of online safety resources and an online harms advisory service.
This isn’t the end of the story. Dangerous suicide and self-harm content will continue to be accessible to anyone over the age of 18. The Government and regulator must use the power of the new law to hold all sites with dangerous content to account and listen to the voices of people with lived experience as the law is implemented.
We will be continuing to work with regulators, politicians and others to see these measures through, and continue to press for the extra protections to be extended to people over 18 as well.
How you helped change the law
Over the past four years – from 2019 to 2023 - every part of the Samaritans movement has worked hard to get us this far – thank you!
Samaritans submitted evidence to the Law Commission consultation on creating a new self-harm offence, supporting the new offence but with need for strong safeguards.
Hundreds of us told the Government they needed to make sure the draft Online Safety Bill prioritised suicide and self-harm.
When the draft Bill was published, it still wasn’t strong enough to tackle harmful content online. Samaritans’ supporters, volunteers and people with lived experience stepped up and demanded the final draft was improved.
Our amazing campaigners spread the word to 617 out of the UK’s 650 MPs, calling on their local MP to take action to make sure this law was passed.
We published influential research commissioned by the Online Excellence Programme from Swansea University, showing the extent of harm caused by viewing harmful suicide and self-harm content online. We have also commissioned further research with other academic institutions to further understand the impact of engaging with this content online and what platforms need to consider when implementing the Online Safety Act in the future.
We worked with a cross-party range of Parliamentarians in the House of Commons and House of Lords to raise our recommendations in Parliament and table amendments to the Bill, which led to improvements to the legislation.
Together with organisations across the sector, our collective voice has been heard in the media.
Our polling showed the public disagreed with the Government removing online protections for people aged 18 and over.
- Read our report: Towards a suicide-safer internet
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Explore our online safety resources here.