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UK families call for easier access to deceased children’s social media history

UK families call for easier access to deceased children’s social media history

Relatives of Molly Russell and other children support changes proposed as part of online safety bill

Bereaved families are calling for easier access to the social media histories of deceased children, supporting amendments to the online safety bill.

The changes have been proposed by Beeban Kidron, a crossbench peer, as the bill returns to parliament on Monday. It is being supported by the family of Molly Russell, a 14-year-old who took her own life in 2017 after months of viewing harmful online content related to suicide, depression, self-harm and anxiety.

Molly’s family spent years seeking access to information about their daughter’s social media accounts, including Instagram. Instagram’s owner, Meta, released more than 1,200 posts that Molly had engaged with on the platform – including some of the most distressing videos and posts that she interacted with – less than a month before the inquest started.

“The experience of living through Molly’s prolonged inquest is something that no family should have to endure,” said Ian Russell, Molly’s father. “There is a dire need for managing this process to make it more straightforward, more compassionate and more efficient. We can no longer leave bereaved families and coroners at the mercy of social media companies.”

In September, a coroner ruled that Molly “died from an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content”, in a ruling described by campaigners as a global first and a “big tobacco moment” for social media.

The amendments proposed by Kidron, which also require changes to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, would put a duty on Ofcom, the communications regulator, to act as a point of contact between a bereaved family and a tech company. They also require coroners to consider if a tech platform holds information regarding the circumstances in which a child died. A further amendment requires tech firms to preserve information from the moment a notice is served and to send a senior manager to any inquest when ordered to testify.

Kidron said families suffered “agony” trying to uncover what their children had been looking at in the days and weeks leading up to their deaths. The amendments will be tabled when the bill, which imposes a duty of care on tech firms to protect children from harmful content, enters the House of Lords.

She added: “These amendments would create a swift, humane route for families and coroners to access data. For the sake of bereaved families now and in the future, I urge the government to adopt them. Denying them this right is simply inhumane.”

Alongside the Russell family, the changes are supported by the family of Frankie Thomas, a 15-year-old who killed herself after months of viewing graphic content about suicide and self-harm; the family of Olly Stephens, 13, who was murdered after a dispute on social media; the mother of Sophie Parkinson, 13, who took her own life after viewing harmful material online; and Lorin LaFave, whose 14-year-old son, Breck Bednar, was groomed and murdered by someone he met online.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been contacted for comment.

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