Molly Russell’s father welcomes online harms warning from Sir Tim Berners-Lee

The father of Molly Russell has welcomed a warning by the World Wide Web inventor about online harms facing women and girls.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee shared his concerns about the web “not working for women and girls”, in an open letter to mark the 31st anniversary of its creation.

The 14-year-old schoolgirl took her own life in 2017 after viewing harmful images on Instagram.

Ian Russell has urged everyone to work together to make the web a safer place, saying “cases like Molly’s show that this really can be a matter of life and death”.

Mr Russell also renewed calls for tech giants to “stop prioritising profit over the removal of online harms”.

“If the internet is to be the productive, safe and positive resource intended then all of us must change how we use it,” he said in a statement through the Molly Rose Foundation.

“Governments, corporations and individuals must act responsibly and urgently to prevent online harms, particularly those affecting vulnerable young females.

“Cases like Molly’s show that this really can be a matter of life and death.

“Governments should regulate and not shy away from sanctions with teeth if their regulation is to work.”

Ian Russell
Ian Russell

He continued: “The tech platforms should stop prioritising profit over the removal of online harms and they should share anonymised data so academics can better understand the links between mental ill-health and online usage.

“Individuals must use the web responsibly and also not be silent bystanders, instead reporting harmful content every time it is encountered.

“Most of all, everyone needs to work together to mend the web if it is to be the force for good it was designed to be.

“That’s why the Molly Rose Foundation is fully supporting Sir Tim and the Web Foundation’s call that the web must work for everyone.

Please help make 2020 the year we tackle online abuse and discrimination, particularly against women and girls.”

The NSPCC also supported Sir Tim’s open letter, saying his intervention should make people “sit up and take notice”.

“Young women and girls must be able to use the internet free from the fear of sexual abuse and harassment,” said Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the charity.

“Tech firms are not neutral actors and their decisions have real world consequences.

“But for too long we’ve seen a piecemeal and often insufficient response from platforms that put users in harm’s way.

“This is a global problem but the UK has a real opportunity to lead the way with an Online Harms regulator that requires tough but proportionate action on both illegal and inappropriate content.”