There has been much exposure in the press over the past week or so about materials on the Internet encouraging young people to self harm or even commit suicide, in the wake of the tragic story of 14 year old Molly Russell.
Calls for greater regulation of the Internet appear overdue and we should ask whether they go far enough. Let us consider the parallels between virtual space and physical space. You can’t erect anything you want, anywhere you want on land here. You need planning permission, and that protects us from having to look at all manner of eyesores and ramshackle dwellings.
Potentially, without our planning law, some comedians would have ‘had a larf’ by constructing offensive buildings, perhaps apartments in the shape of two fingered salute or a skyscraper far more phallic than The Gherkin.
But there is no such regulation on the Internet. Anyone can pay a miniscule amount of money, create a website and put what they want in it, their own bit of virtual land on which to build whatever they want, no matter how dangerous or offensive.
The Internet Service Provider who owns that ‘land’ will not be monitoring how it is used and there is no ‘planning authority’ to exercise any control. Perhaps the time has come to tackle that as an international imperative.
Meanwhile, we in the community sector, or any others who work with young people in any way, should be alert to the issues and on the lookout for the smallest signs of an individual getting sucked in the unsavoury side of the web and the dangers that are blighting, and in some cases ending, too many lives.