social media

Molly’s legacy should be tighter regulation

Last week, if you had asked me about Instagram, I would have said it was harmless enough.

A social media platform where people who regard Facebook as something only their parents use go to upload their fashion choices or record their big night out and where “influencers” – whatever they are – post images of themselves on a beach with the tagline #livingthelife.

In short, not really a platform for grown-ups.

But that was before news of the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell had it the headlines.

And now Instagram feels very adult indeed.

You’ll have seen Molly’s picture a lot these past few days. Her photos have been used widely across the media. There she is, a shyly smiling teenager in her school uniform, then as a little girl on a family holiday and again, younger still, cuddling a toy dog.

She could be anyone’s daughter, yours or mine, gazing out of those photos at the bright future before her.

Except her future is over.

It came to a sudden and heartbreakingly premature end when she took her own life after viewing content about suicide online. She had showed no signs of mental illness. It was only after her death her family found she had been watching material linked to self-harm and suicide.

Put simply, her dad Ian believes Instagram helped kill his daughter and it’s hard to argue.

Social media has now become a necessary evil. Society now cannot live without it and, while it’s responsible a great deal of good it also accounts for a great deal of misery.

And that misery can be most acute among children.

At best it peddles the myth that everyone is having a better time than you. Everyone is thinner, has more friends, goes on more holidays. It’s nonsense of course but it’s hard not to swallow the message, especially when you haven’t the life experience to see those posts for what they are – fiction.

It can also be a portal for bullying. When I was a kid if you were having issues in school they were generally confined to the classroom or the bus stop; home was an escape.

These days, thanks to mobile phones, the bullies can follow you all the way into your bedroom.

And now, having long suspected the unregulated, darker side of social media can be as harmful – perhaps more so – than drugs and booze we have the proof in Molly.

And she’s not unique. Papyrus, a youth suicide prevention charity, has been contacted by around 30 families in the past week who believe social media had a part to play in their children’s suicides.

Think about that for a moment. If this was a pill which was killing our kids it would be banned outright.

But what do we get? Health Secretary Matt Hancock “warning” warned social media firms they could face a ban if they don’t remove harmful material.

I don’t think they’ll be quaking in their cyber boots – his actions are too little and too late.

As parents we should be demanding that these firms are held to account for the material their sites host – and turn a blind eye to – and face immediate, punitive action.

Nothing will bring Molly back but if by her tragic death comes tighter regulation and stronger laws governing social media then it won’t have been in vain.

Every grown-up knows that water-slides, while on the face of it are great fun, should be avoided after the age of 25. Sadly, the message didn’t reach Jemma Joslyn who is suing Thomas Cook after she was crushed by an obese woman on a hotel pool slide in Turkey and ended up badly hurt.

My husband learned his lesson when, on a family holiday, his swimming trunks split as he whizzed down the slide resulting in fellow holidaymakers getting an eye-ful – and him feeling a right arse.

Medics are warning that increased use of Fitbits could lead to the NHS becoming overwhelmed by people who are wrongly being told by their devices that they’re ill.

This proves two things. One – if you want to check whether you’re poorly, you might as well just feel your forehead and, two – exercise really is the work of the devil.