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Monday, January 30, 2023

Molly Russell and Olly Stephens: Families unite to slam online law delays

Family handouts

Two families united by anger over the role social media played in their children’s deaths have warned that more youngsters face the same fate unless the government takes swift action.

The parents of teenagers Molly Russell and Olly Stephens said they were frustrated by repeated delays to the passing of the new Online Safety Bill.

It is hoped the legislation will make it harder to share harmful content.

The government said it wanted to introduce the law as soon as possible.

The families of Molly Russell and Olly Stephens meet

Molly Russell, from Harrow in north-west London, was 14 when she took her own life in 2017 after watching images of self-harm and suicide on Instagram and Pinterest.

Just over three years later, 13-year-old Olly Stephens from Reading was stabbed to death by teenagers who plotted his killing across numerous social media platforms and posed in pictures with knives and shared content glamorising gang violence.

Molly and Olly’s parents spoke to the BBC together about their increasing exasperation with the government for repeated delays to a law that would end self-regulation for social media firms and force them to remove harmful content.

Ian Russell

Ian Russell, Molly’s father, compared the way social media companies currently operate to “putting cars on the road without testing them on crash dummies first”.

“The Online Safety Bill is something I care deeply about because without a change that regulates the companies to operate their platforms more safely, these tragedies will continue to happen,” he said.

“It’s too late for me so in a way it’s not a huge personal investment – I’m just frustrated that an opportunity for change and an opportunity for greater safety for children has been delayed for so long.”

Molly Russell

Russell Family

Amanda Stephens, Olly’s mum, said the government has to start taking the issues “seriously” and mirrored Mr Russell’s call for the delays to stop.

“The clock’s ticking,” she said. “The time ran out years ago. Our children are dying.”

Olly’s father, Stuart Stephens, added: “Any child’s life that is lost is utterly tragic because it’s a life unfulfilled.

“There’s so much potential in that life and in that moment, and it’s gone now for us and it’s because of social media – so we have no choice but to fight.”

Stuart and Olly Stephens

Family handout

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said: “Social media companies aren’t doing enough to protect children and take down illegal content on their platforms.

“That’s why we’re stepping in with our world-leading Online Safety Bill to hold tech firms to account, with huge fines for those who fail to take action.

“The Secretary of State has committed to strengthen protections for free speech and children in the Online Safety Bill and bring the bill back to the Commons as soon as possible.

“It remains the government’s intention to pass the bill this session.”

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