Instagram, Facebook and more face child safety crackdown from MPs

Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and other apps face being forced by law to get rid of illegitimate content and sign a code of conduct protecting vulnerable users, as well as kids.

It’s expected that the UK’s culture and digital minister Margot James will announce a compulsory code of conduct for tech giants on Tuesday (5 February) following on from a BBC investigation around teenagers Molly Russell, who took her own life after viewing distressing material concerning depression and suicide on Instagram.

Details of the code have yet to be disclosed; however many reports say James will use her speech to be given at a Safer internet Day conference to initiate a policy paper and consultation prior introducing the new regulatory regime.

Advertisers have reacted with alarm to the news their own content was being surfaced alongside suicidal imagery. Household names together with M&S, The Post office and the British Heart Foundation were found last month to have been inadvertently connected to such inappropriate material.

Trade body Isba has already demanded that an independent, industry funded body be established to certify content acceptable for advertising.

A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We have heard calls for an internet regulator and to position a statutory ‘duty of care’ on platforms and are seriously considering all choices.

“Social media corporations clearly got to do a lot of to confirm they’re not promoting harmful content to vulnerable individuals. Our forthcoming white paper will set out their responsibilities, however they should be met and what should happen if they’re not.”

In an open letter written in the Telegraph this week, Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, admitted: “We are not yet where we want to be on the problems of suicide and self-harm. We have to do everything we can to keep the most vulnerable people that use our platform safe. To be very clear, we don’t enable posts that promote or encourage suicide or self-harm.”

Instagram already uses engineers and reviewers to make it harder for individuals to supply self-harm pictures. More recently, it’s been applying ‘sensitivity screens’ to blur these photos.
The Facebook-owned app is stopping short of removing ‘cutting’ pictures entirely, though. “We still enable individuals to share that they’re troubled even if that content no longer shows up in search, hashtags or account recommendations”, wrote Mosseri.

However, it does plan to supply larger support to people that are battling self-harm or suicide by connecting them with organizations like the Samaritans.

Last month, the firm’s newly-installed head of communications, Nick Clegg, said Facebook would “look [at the issue] from top to bottom and change everything we’re doing if necessary, to get it right.”

“We’re already taking steps shortly to blur pictures, block a number of hashtags that have come to light, and thirdly to continue to work. With the Samaritans and different organizations,” he said.