Samaritans launch world first guidance for the technology industry

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Guidelines set out how to safely manage self-harm and suicide content online

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10 September 2020 | 0

As part of World Suicide Prevention Day, Samaritans has published guidelines for the technology industry on managing self-harm and suicide content online.

The suicide prevention charity developed the guidelines to help tackle the issue of harmful online content, while also improving access to content that can be a source of support.

Samaritans collaborated with government, technology and social media companies including Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest, academics and third sector organisations on the project.

 

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“The internet is an integral part of our lives and an invaluable resource,” said Jacqui Morrissey, assistant director of research and influencing, Samaritans, “but the challenge with this is making sure that online content is shared in a safe way, particularly for those who are vulnerable. 

“Whilst we have seen steps in the right direction over the last 18 months, we still think there is further to go, and we need all platforms and sites to be taking this seriously.”

Morrissey added that the guidance is not just applicable to large companies: “Any company that hosts user generated content needs to think about how this type of content may appear on their platform and how they will respond to it.”

Research from Samaritans and the University of Bristol found that young people use the online environment to inform self-harm and suicide attempts, showing an urgent need to protect vulnerable people and help them to access support. The study found that at least a quarter of young people who present to hospital who have self-harmed with suicide intent, have used the internet in connection with their attempt. 

“We want all sites and platforms to recognise that self-harm and suicide content has potential for serious harms,” said Morrissey. “We also want them to understand what that means for their platform, take action to minimise access to harmful content and create more opportunities for support in the online environment.”

Samaritans expertise in suicide prevention has informed the guidelines which are made up of best practice principles, to help platforms create safer online spaces for vulnerable people and allow users to access the benefits from the online environment, whilst minimising the potential for harm. 

The charity also announced plans to launch an online harms advisory service, providing specialist support and advice for all sites and platforms hosting user-generated content on managing self-harm and suicide content on their platforms. 

Together, the guidelines and advisory service form part of Samaritans Online Harms Programme; a three-year funded programme of work being led by Samaritans in collaboration with the Department for Health and Social Care in the UK, Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest. The programme will include a research and insight workstream which aims to understand more about what makes self-harm and suicide content harmful and for who, along with the development of resources for staying safe online.  

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