Children need to be protected from toxic social media platforms | Letters

Children need to be protected from toxic social media platforms | Letters

Regarding the Molly Russell inquest, my 19-year-old daughter has grown up on social media, suffered with intense anxiety and depression, self-harmed for all of her secondary school years and attempted suicide more than once (The Molly Russell inquest verdict damns Silicon Valley. There can be no more excuses, 30 September). When visiting family over the summer, her aunt, who has two children under 10, asked her opinion on when children should be given a smartphone. Without a second’s hesitation her reply was: “Don’t ever give them a phone. Social media has ruined my life and almost killed me.”

Thank you to Molly’s brave family. The documentary The Social Dilemma should be mandatory viewing for all children in primary school. Name and address supplied

Young people are not the only collateral damage of the tech industry. Many tech companies foster a culture of harm internally as well. After three years at a tech firm, I learned that toxic organisational culture in tech is far more subtle and harder to call out. Tools that were, on the surface, meant to promote fairness and positivity, such as levelling rubrics and company values, were often weaponised against employees. Mistreatment was hidden behind benefits and perks. One year later, I have greater clarity on the psychological harm I extricated myself from.

The Molly Russell inquest verdict should be a turning point for Silicon Valley, but I suspect that tech firms will continue to place the blame elsewhere, most likely on victims. Online safety for children is an area of critical concern. So is workplace bullying and abuse. They exist side by side, the latter influences the former and their origins are the same: a solidified culture of groupthink that has convinced its participants that they’re the good guys.

Molly was under the influence of tech firm toxicity as a child. I was under the influence of tech firm toxicity as an adult. I had decades of resilience-building, resources and support in place and I barely made it out. More vulnerable people – children especially – don’t stand a chance. Silicon Valley is past due for an ethics overhaul: it has cost too many people their lives. Name and address supplied

The only glimmer of light is that online harms presented to children are finally being taken seriously. Unfortunately, the online safety bill fails to solve the problems and presents new ones for society. Much of the material online is safe for children. Some of it should not be seen by anyone, and should be made uniformly illegal. The bill proposes to proactively criminalise the remainder, with a wide-reaching legal tool of state power and censorship.

Reliable age identification of internet users is technically infeasible and socially dangerous. It takes little imagination to realise how this could be used by a government that was hostile to political dissent. State-wide content moderation presents a catch-22: if it is not easily circumvented, it is a harmful tool of censorship. If it is easy to circumvent (using a VPN, for example), it provides no protection.

The only way this problem can be solved is by empowering parents to conveniently manage the content their child sees on their own devices and on their own networks. Daniel Littlewood Deptford, London

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