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Social media firms could face ban over self-harm content, health secretary says

Matt Hancock speaking at the Blockchain Partnership event that was held at the Digital Catapult Centre, London, on Tuesday 26 April 2016.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned social media companies they could face a ban if they fail to promptly remove self-harm and suicide content.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday, Hancock said: “If we think they need to do things they are refusing to do, then we can, and we must legislate.”

It comes after Molly Russell, a 14-year-old in the UK took her own life after seeing suicidal content on Instagram in 2017, according to her father.

Hancock said he sent a letter to various platforms, including Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Apple, Google and Facebook, acknowledging steps some have taken to remove inappropriate media.

However, he added there is room for improvement. “It is appalling how easy it still is to access this content online and I am in no doubt about the harm this material can cause, especially for young people”, he wrote.

On the BBC program, the health secretary was also asked if the UK would go as far as banning or imposing extra taxes on websites that failed to remove harmful content.

“Ultimately parliament does have that sanction, yes,” he said.

“It’s not where I’d like to end up, in terms of banning them, of course, because there’s a great positive to social media too. But we run our country through parliament and we will and we must act if we have to”, Hancock added.

The Health Secretary revealed the government was preparing a white paper to analyse online dangers, which would consider content on suicide and self-harm.

“I want to work with internet and social media providers to ensure the action is as effective as possible,” he said. “However, let me be clear that we will introduce new legislation where needed.”

Hancock also stretched the need for the UK to become “the safest place to be online for everyone” and said he wanted to “ensure that no other family has to endure the torment that Molly’s parents have had to go through.”

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