Samaritans urges UK Government to go further over harmful suicide and self-harm content. Adults warn extreme content will be pushed around the web, in new Samaritans’ survey.
The UK Government will miss a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ to protect people who are at greater risk of suicide unless it urgently closes a loophole in its forthcoming Online Safety Bill, says Samaritans, the leading suicide prevention charity.
Julie Bentley, Samaritans Chief Executive, is warning that current UK Government proposals are not fit for purpose and will not protect adults that may be in distress from all harmful suicide and self-harm material online, with only the most well-known social media platforms currently required to act.
Smaller sites, such as online community groups, forums and message boards would only be required to protect children from content that is ‘legal but harmful’**, leaving over-18s at risk from harmful suicide and self-harm content on sites that are unlikely to provide safe moderation and vital support.
Julie Bentley said: “We know the internet can be an invaluable source of support and connection for those who are struggling. However, in the same space there is information about suicide and self-harm methods, as well as content that portrays self-harm and suicide as positive or desirable, which can encourage or compound distressing feelings.
“The Online Safety Bill is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make the internet safer, but the UK Government must close the loophole which allows harmful content to be seen by over 18s on smaller sites like pro-suicide forums that are less likely to be moderated. The Bill rightly gives a much higher level of protection to children but being over 18 doesn’t stop you being or becoming distressed and at risk of suicide.”
Respondents to a new Samaritans’ survey of people with personal experience of suicidal thoughts and self-harm called for the legislation to better protect anyone over 18 from harmful suicide and self-harm content in smaller online spaces. David* warned the current plans, which only focus on the most well-known sites, risk pushing harmful content and people in distress to smaller sites. He said, if you drive people away from popular and regulated social media sites you might push them underground to smaller sites where content could become rife and more extreme.
Julie continues: “We know suicide is complex and is a major public health issue that devastates families and communities. It is also the leading cause of death of people aged 16-24, but it is preventable, and we know that in many cases the internet has played a role when over-18s have sadly taken their own life. Taking a partial approach to tackling suicide and self-harm content in the Online Safety Bill will only undermine suicide prevention strategies across the UK. The Bill must ensure that everyone is protected across all sites, no matter how big or small and regardless of the users’ age.”
A separate Samaritans’ poll of 2,000 UK adults on the Bill found that 82% believe children and adults should receive the same level of protection from harmful suicide and self-harm content. 75% also agree that all platforms hosting user generated content should tackle harmful content for everyone across all ages.
The charity says that new regulation must still ensure the benefits of online spaces are not compromised. Julie said: “Whilst we need a regulatory ‘floor’ around suicide and self-harm content, this must not lead to all conversations about suicide and self-harm being shut down, as we need safe spaces where people can share how they’re feeling, connect with others, and find information and sources of support. All sites need to make sure that their spaces are being used safely and information being shared is safe to others.”
The UK Government is set to publish the final version of the Online Safety Bill in March/April 2022.
More information on Samaritans campaign for a safer internet can be found here..
For further information and interview requests with Julie, please contact Samaritans’ press office on 0208 394 8300 or [email protected]
*David and Emma – anonymous quotes from Samaritans’ Lived Experience Panel survey
** Examples of ‘legal but harmful’ suicide and self-harm content includes:
- Content that portrays self-harm and suicide as positive or desirable.
- Information and depictions of methods of harm.
- Graphic descriptions or depictions of self-harm and suicide.
Notes to editors
- When reporting on suicide, please bear in mind Samaritans’ Media Guidelines.
- For further advice, contact the Media Advisory team on 07483 028725/07850 312224 or email: [email protected]
The Lived Experience Panel survey consisted of 96 people aged 18 and over with lived experience of suicidal thoughts, self-harm and suicide attempts. This was carried out online in July 2021. They told Samaritans that:
- They believe strongly that over-18s should be protected from harmful suicide and self-harm content on smaller platforms and sites.
- Respondents agreed that online spaces can be helpful for individuals experiencing self-harm and suicidal feelings. They stressed that these spaces provide “life-saving peer support” and allow people to feel less alone and share advice for coping with distress.
Samaritans surveyed 2,002 adults over 18 across England, Wales, Scotland and NI in January 2021. The findings:
- 82% believe everyone should receive the same level of protection from harmful suicide and self-harm content.
- 75% agree that all platforms hosting user generated content should tackle harmful content for everyone across all ages.
- 69% believe that there is too much harmful suicide and self-harm content available to access on the internet.
- Anyone can contact Samaritans FREE any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email [email protected] or visit www.samaritans.org.
- Every day, Samaritans’ volunteers respond to around 10,000 calls for help.
- Samaritans is a charity and it’s the public’s kind donations and more than 20,000 volunteers that mean we are always there for anyone struggling to cope. Find out how you can support us or volunteer with us.
- You can follow Samaritans on social media on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
- Guidance on staying safe online can be found here.