Autistic teenager attempted suicide after sites refused to take down viral video

An autistic teenager tried to take his own life after a video of him spread online and social media platforms refused to take it down, a former victims’ commissioner has said.

Baroness Newlove told peers in Westminster how the youngster was filmed by a member of the public “when dysregulated and engaging in aggressive behaviour” in a fast food restaurant, and how the video was shared thousands of times on various social media sites.

The Tory peer (pictured) explained how the video was reported by the boy and his mother, but the sites would not take it down, and the teen “became overwhelmed” by the negative comments, eventually trying to end his own life.

Her remarks came as peers called on the Government to create an avenue of redress for individuals unhappy with how a platform has dealt with their complaint.

She said: “This footage was shared out of context across social media with much of the response online labelling Harry as an disruptive teenager who was engaging in unacceptable aggression and vandalising public property.

“This was shared thousands of times over the course of a few weeks.

“When Harry and his mum reported it to the social media platforms, they were informed it didn’t violate community guidelines and that there was a public interest in the footage remaining online.

“The family, quite rightly, felt powerless, Harry became overwhelmed at the negative response to the footage and the comments made about his behaviour.

“Harry became withdrawn and stopped engaging. He then tried to take his own life.

“It was at this point that Harry’s mum reached out to the voluntary-run service Report Harmful Content as she had nowhere else to turn to. Report Harmful Content is run by the charity South West Grid for Learning.

“They were able to mediate between the social media sites involved to further explain the context and demonstrate the real-world harm that this footage, by remaining online, was having on the family and Harry’s mental health.

“Then, and only then, did the social media companies concerned remove the content.”

Lady Newlove gave the troubling account as peers continued their line-by-line scrutiny of the Online Safety Bill.

Peers across the House called for an independent appeals procedure for social media users who have exhausted the internal complaints process of these sites – an ombudsman separate to Ofcom to provide an impartial out-of-court resolution.

This suggestion was rejected by the Government, with technology minister Viscount Camrose saying: “The Government does remain confident that service providers are best placed to deal with individual user complaints as they will be able to take appropriate action promptly.

“This could include removing content, sanctioning offending users, reversing wrongful content removal or changing their systems and processes.”

He added that the Bill includes “super-complaints provisions” that allow for systemic issues to be raised with Ofcom, who will be required to publish a response.

Individuals can also submit complaints to Ofcom but it “will not be able to investigate or arbitrate in individual cases” – instead, these reports will be used to inform its overall enforcement activity.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Allan of Hallam, who worked as Facebook’s director of policy in Europe for 10 years, highlighted that online providers struggle to deal with the “vast funnel of reports”, most of which are “spurious or vexatious”, and the challenge of separating the “genuinely serious reports” from the “vast amount of noise”.

He argued an independent body is needed to identify circumstances where a platform has correctly enforced its policies, but that in a particular case, like Harry’s, it is “deeply unfair, problematic and harmful for an individual”, and provide an avenue for redress.

Children’s rights campaigner Baroness Kidron said the minister responding to the debate had been given “a sticky wicket here of defending the indefensible”.

The film director and independent crossbencher said: “The Government has chosen to give individuals no recourse under the Bill and that is the current situation as it stands, and there is no concession on that matter.

“I believe I have been in meetings with people when they have been promised such things and I think it’s really important that we state what the situation is.”

Offering a meeting with peers to discuss the matter further, Viscount Camrose said: “We are giving users greater protection through the Bill.”

Labour frontbencher Lord Stevenson of Balmacara told him: “This is a very complicated Bill and you and I are now learning the hard lessons.

“It’s quite clear there’s something here that needs to be resolved and the way the Government is approaching it, it is heading towards a brick wall.”

He added that the Bill is “reinforcing an inequality of arms” between individuals and companies, concluding: “The Government is in a mess, please sort it.”

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