Internet safety plea over death of Tallulah Wilson

Tallulah Wilson died in 2012 after posting self-harm images on networking site Tumblr.

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A coroner has urged the government to take action over web safety after a 15-year-old girl took her own life, warning of a risk of future deaths.

In January St Pancras Coroner's Court heard that Tallulah Wilson, of West Hampstead, died having posted self-harm images on networking site Tumblr.

In a report obtained by BBC London, the coroner made recommendations to the Department of Health.

The government says that it takes child safety online seriously.

Tallulah was run over by a train in Kings Cross in 2012, and the coroner recorded a narrative verdict that she took her own life. After Tallulah's death, her mother spoke of her daughter being involved in a "toxic digital world".

Coroner Mary Hassell wrote to Health Minister Jeremy Hunt about what lessons could be learned.

Former self-harmer's view

Tim Squirrell

Tim Squirrell, a student at Cambridge University, used to self-harm.

He said: "I think it's really, really important for people to be able to share their experiences with other people, to find other people to empathise with them and to know that they are not alone in what they're going through.

"However, I think it's not necessary for that to take place for you to have graphic images of people who have self harmed.

"There's a risk if you spend too long on certain types of website that it can end up being something that becomes not just a habit and a need, but something that contributes to the pathology which you are experiencing."

He added: "The visceral reaction I had (to seeing images online of someone who had just cut themselves) was the same as anyone else's but of course I know that that is something I have done as well.

"I don't think it is something which would immediately encourage me to go out and do it again."

She wrote: "During the course of the inquest, the evidence revealed matters giving rise to concern. In my opinion, there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken.

"Although Tallulah was treated by a number of healthcare professionals, no person who gave evidence felt they had a good enough understanding of the evolving way that the internet is used by young people, most particularly in terms of the online life that is quite separate from the rest of life."

The coroner called on the department to carry out more research, develop improved clinical practice and refine risk assessments.

The department has been asked to respond by 31 March with a timetable for action to be taken, or an explanation of why no action is proposed.

Ms Hassell concluded: "Action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe that the Department of Health has the power to take such action."

Disturbing images

A government spokesman said: "The government takes the issue of child safety online very seriously and has set out a series of measures to help keep children safe online.

"The main internet service providers have committed to giving customers an unavoidable decision on installing family-friendly filters that will protect all devices in the home.

"The new national curriculum will see children aged five to 16 taught about internet safety in a sensible, age-appropriate way."

After the verdict, Tumblr said it was "committed to continually improving our ability to act on self-harm content".

The website's own guidelines state that users should not "post content that actively promotes or glorifies self-harm", saying that this "includes content that urges or encourages others to cut or injure themselves or commit suicide".

The website says that it will "remove those posts or blogs that cross the line into active promotion or glorification of self-harm".

A BBC London investigation found that more than 200 graphic images of self harm were still available on Tumblr.

An automatically-generated box invited non-members to sign up to see similar content, while users were openly discussing self-harm tips, with posts left online for days. When the BBC contacted Tumblr they could still be seen.

'Explicit images'

Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist, said she was concerned.

She said: "The images I have seen on Tumblr are incredibly explicit and are filmed in a particular way that suggest there is something about self-harm that is actually quite romanticised and positive.

Start Quote

The kind of images you can see would never be allowed in a film with a 12 certificate or before the watershed. This is not acceptable.”

End Quote Helen Goodman MP Shadow minister for Culture, Media and Sport

"I think it very much fits with what adolescents have of really wanting to have a feeling of belonging and identity which this website provides."

Helen Goodman MP, shadow minister for Culture, Media and Sport, said: "These sort of images are absolutely shocking.

"The kind of images you can see would never be allowed in a film with a 12 certificate or before the watershed. This is not acceptable.

"It's a growing problem - I want to see social media websites being brought within a proper legal framework."

In a statement Tumblr said that although it was committed to protecting users' freedom of expression, it drew the line at content it considered to be damaging such as blogs which encouraged self-harm.

"Users are encouraged to report those blogs to abuse@tumblr.com, where our trust and safety team can respond to content that violates our policies.

"Equally important, we intercept searches related to depression and self-harm, and direct users to counselling and resources that can offer support."

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