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Online Harm: A Call to Action by Grieving Parents

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Dr. Jessica Nelson
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Online Harm: A Call to Action by Grieving Parents

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Online harm, particularly amongst young people, has become a grave concern that requires urgent attention. A poignant example of the negative impact of harmful online content is the tragic loss of Brianna Ghey and Molly Russell, two teenagers whose lives were devastated by the digital world. Their grieving parents, Esther Ghey and Ian Russell, are now joining forces to address the issue of online harm, advocating for stronger measures to protect individuals from such tragedies.

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The Tragic Loss of Brianna Ghey and Molly Russell

Brianna and Molly's stories are heartbreaking. Molly was exposed to dark material on social media before her suicide, while Brianna's mental wellbeing was undermined by harmful content she encountered online prior to her murder. The devastating experiences of these two young girls highlight the urgent need for social media companies to take more responsibility for the content their algorithms deliver to vulnerable teenagers.

Mobile Phones for Children: A Point of Concern

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Esther Ghey, Brianna's mother, believes that mobile phones should be made specifically for children under 16 to protect them from harmful online content. She argues that tech giants and mobile phone companies must take more responsibility for children's welfare, and that her daughter might still be alive had her killers not been able to access violent content online. Meanwhile, UK children aged 8 to 17 spend between two and five hours online per day, with nearly every child over 12 owning a mobile phone. These statistics underscore the critical need for stricter controls on children’s access to social media and the internet.

Calling for Stronger Measures

The new Online Safety Act aims to compel social media firms and search engines to do more to protect users, especially children. However, there are calls for more to be done, including banning under 16s from social media and smartphones. The idea of a smartphone ban for children under 16 has even been suggested in Florida, which may become the first US state to implement such a law.

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The Role of Parents and Schools

The responsibility to protect children from online harm doesn't rest solely with tech companies and the government. Parents, caregivers, and educational institutions also play a crucial role. It is vital to limit screen time, promote a healthy distance from social media, and encourage critical discussion about what children are exposed to online. Schools can contribute significantly by integrating lessons on mental health and mindfulness into their curricula, a change that Esther Ghey believes could be part of Brianna's lasting legacy.

A Growing Global Concern

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The issue of online harm has gained momentum worldwide, with US lawmakers debating legislation aimed at restricting under-16s from using social media. The US surgeon general has even issued an advisory statement warning of the adverse impact of social media on young people's mental health. Academic research has also indicated that social media platforms such as TikTok are serving up increasingly harmful content to vulnerable individuals. It is clear that better policing and regulation of social media by big tech companies is necessary.

A Call to Action

The collaboration between Esther Ghey and Ian Russell is a call to action. They urge us to reflect not just on the tragic circumstances of Brianna and Molly's deaths, but also on the brightness of their lives and the potential of all young people that can be protected and nurtured with the right measures. It is a plea for change, a demand for responsible online platforms, and a rallying cry for the importance of mental health support for those affected by online harm.

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