Search for #suicide on Instagram and more than 8 million images will appear. Browsing for #sue or #selfharmm – yes, with a double m – will yield similar results, both secret hashtags used by a growing online community to talk about self-harm.
One image depicts bloody cuts up a woman’s arm captioned “New blades”. Another features a handwritten poem: “Dear me, I hate you, you’re weak, you deserve the pain, you’re imperfect, you’ll never be good enough. I hope you die!”
British 14-year-old Molly Russell was believed to have been browsing these images moments before she took her own life last year. Unbeknownst to her family, the outwardly happy teenager had been retreating to an online world which encouraged her darkest thoughts.
Now, following lobbying from Russell’s father – and 30 other bereaved families – Instagram has announced that it will ban all graphic self-harm images from the platform.
“It is encouraging to see that decisive steps are now being taken to try to protect children from disturbing content on Instagram and I hope that the company acts swiftly to implement these plans and make good on their commitments,” said Russell’s father.
“It is now time for other social media platforms to take action to recognise the responsibility they too have to their users if the internet is to become a safe place for young and vulnerable people.”