United Kingdom

Ian Russell: ‘There are questions that will never be answered about Molly’s final hours’

Russell, it is no exaggeration to say, has managed to change the debate around child safety online through years of tireless campaigning that has won him admirers, including the Prince of Wales. On Monday he received a call from Michelle Donelan, the new Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The minister said she “wanted to assure” him that a long-delayed law placing a duty on social-media firms to protect users, particularly children, from harmful content will continue its journey through Parliament before Christmas. 

But, after years of platitudes and indecision from authorities, Russell wants to see action, not just words. He points out that four children are lost to suicide every week in the UK. 

“I don’t think a secretary of state could say any more than Michelle did,” he says. “But it’s not what she says. It’s what they do. The promise she made to get this through the Commons and into the Lords before Christmas is firstly too slow, but it’s a promise they have to keep.”

The progress of the bill has been stymied by concerns that provisions to clamp down on so-called “legal but harmful” content could see free speech curtailed. Russell is fed up with how this has become “one of the tech lobbyists’ biggest weapons”, something that is distracting from the fact that children are “unprotected when they are online at the moment”. 

“I think it was the ‘legal but harmful’ content that Molly saw that was most dangerous,” he says. “I think that’s what sapped her joy and her energy and positivity.”

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