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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.
About the campaign
The UK Government’s Online Safety Bill is an important opportunity to help create a suicide-safer internet. After ten months of working on the draft version of the Bill, the final version was introduced to Parliament in March 2022 – ready for MPs to start making amendments and finally vote to make it law.
In response, Julie Bentley Samaritans CEO said:
“The Online Safety Bill makes progress towards a safer internet environment but there is still a gaping hole that fails to protect adults from ‘legal but harmful’ suicide and self-harm content.
“It is woefully inadequate that only the most well-known social media sites are required to even think about the risk their harmful suicide and self-harm content poses to adults. Smaller sites, including forums that encourage suicide, are being completely let off and this is not good enough, as we know some of the most harmful content lives on these sites.
“You don’t stop having suicidal feelings or self-harming as soon as you turn 18 and this new law must help protect everyone, on any site, whether they are 16 or 66.
“We know that the internet has played a role in the deaths of people of all ages, and many will have visited websites that encouraged suicide or shared information about methods of harm.
“The internet can be a real source of help, advice and support for people struggling with poor mental health so we must do more to ensure there are safe, supportive spaces online while removing suicide and self-harm content that is clearly harmful.
“All sites, not just the most popular, should at the very least carry out risk assessments of their suicide and self-harm content in relation to adults and make it clear how they will deal with harmful content. If nothing changes in the Bill then it will be a huge, missed opportunity to help prevent suicide.”
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The campaign so far
The UK Government’s Online Safety Bill currently divides harmful content into two categories – illegal content and legal but harmful content. Harmful content relating to suicide and self-harm falls into both categories. For example, content encouraging someone to take their own life is illegal in most parts of the UK, but content providing information about an emerging suicide method is legal but harmful.
Under current plans, only the largest and most popular social media platforms will be required to tackle suicide and self-harm content that is legal but harmful to over-18s. This isn’t good enough. Suicidal feelings and behaviour affects people of all ages and some of the most harmful content can be found on smaller platforms and sites like online forums or message boards.
With your help, we let the Parliamentary Committee scrutinising the draft Bill know about this loophole. Their report reflected the point we made about smaller platforms and sites. They recommended that the legislation adopt “a more nuanced approach” to tackling content that is legal but harmful to over-18s, based on “factors such as risk… and user base…”
Sadly the UK Government haven’t made these changes in the final version of the Bill. But we will work with MPs over the next months to try and change the Bill to make sure that, when it comes to all harmful suicide and self-harm content, all platforms and sites take responsibility for protecting people of all ages.
Watch the video below to see how Samaritans supporters, volunteers and staff worked together to influence the Parliamentary Committee:
We’re calling for:
- All harmful suicide and self-harm content to be priority areas for action in the Online Safety Bill.
- The Bill to ensure when it comes to all harmful suicide and self-harm content, all platforms and sites are in scope with a view to protecting people of all ages.
- The Bill to enact the Law Commission’s recommendation that a new offence of encouraging serious self-harm with clearly malicious intent is created in England and Wales.
Learn more: read our report
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