New partnership will bring together social media giants and suicide prevention experts

A new, world-leading partnership will bring together social media giants and suicide prevention experts to tackle harmful self-harm and suicide content online, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced today.

It forms part of a new agreement between the Government and leading charity Samaritans, which will launch following today’s second UK summit with social media companies and internet providers.

As part of a new pledge from Government to make the UK the safest place to be online, Hancock will ask tech giants including Google, Facebook and Snapchat to commit to working with the hub to develop ways to identify and tackle this type of harmful content.

This will include how they are using artificial intelligence and latest technology to make progress in protecting their most vulnerable users.

He will also ask them to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to those who spread anti-vaccination messages online, following recent statistics which show measles cases have quadrupled in the UK in just one year.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I want the UK to be the safest place to be online and give parents the confidence to know their children are safe when they use social media. As set out in our Online Harms white paper, the Government will legislate to tackle harmful content online – but we will also work with social media companies to act now.”

“I was very encouraged at our last summit that social media companies agreed normalising or glamorising of eating disorders, suicide and self-harm on social media platforms is never acceptable and the proliferation of this material is causing real harm.”

“We have made good progress working with companies to take proper steps to improve the safety of their platforms, but we’re clear there is more to be done.”

“So I am delighted to announce this world-leading partnership, which will see us team up with Samaritans to enable social media companies to go further in achieving our goal of making the UK the safest place to be online.”

At the last summit, held in February, Instagram pledged to remove all graphic content depicting suicide or self-harm from the platform. This meeting will serve as an update on progress and will also offer an opportunity to learn what other action other tech giants have taken.

The new hub will engage with online users, people with lived experience of mental health and suicide and self-harm and those bereaved by suicide, to ensure its responses to eradicating harmful content are appropriate and effective, and based around users’ best interests.

Ruth Sutherland, CEO, Samaritans said: “The internet has evolved rapidly to be a force for good and a new forum to connect with others. However, there has been a worrying growth of dangerous online content which is an urgent issue to combat and something we cannot solve alone. There is no black and white solution that protects the public from content on self harm and suicide, as they are such specific and complex issues.”

“That is why we need to work together with tech platforms to identify and remove harmful content whilst being extremely mindful that sharing certain content can be an important source of support for some. This partnership marks a collective commitment to learn more about the issues, build knowledge through research and insights from users and implement changes that can ultimately save lives.”

Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “Technology can be an incredible force for good but companies must take more responsibility to protect vulnerable users from online harms. That’s why we’ve set out world leading plans for an independent regulator and a statutory duty of care to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online.”

“Partnerships like this will ensure that companies take positive action ahead of the new rules so that everyone can enjoy and benefit from the internet safely.”