Labour has said it is “open-minded” about a potential ban on under-16s using social media sites following the murder of Brianna Ghey, the shadow technology secretary has said.
Peter Kyle urged society to “get ahead of the curve” in protecting children online after it emerged that Scarlett Jenkinson, one of the transgender schoolgirl’s killers, had enjoyed watching murder and torture videos online.
Esther Ghey, Brianna’s mother, is launching a petition to demand that children are no longer allowed access to social media apps on their smartphones, saying her daughter would “without a doubt” not have been killed if greater safeguards had been in place.
Jenkinson and her accomplice Eddie Ratcliffe, both 16, received life sentences on Friday for the murder of Brianna, who was also 16. They stabbed her 28 times on Feb 11 last year.
The pair messaged one another about wanting to kill Brianna and other people that they knew, while Jenkinson used a special “dark web” browser, a matrix of encrypted sites, to watch extreme videos of real people being subjected to graphic violence.
Asked whether Labour would consider a ban on social media for under-16s, Mr Kyle told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “I’m open-minded about how we go forward with this.
“I’m already in discussion with bereaved families who have lost children to the impact of social media, or that social media has had an aggravating factor in the loss of life and the harm that’s done to them.
“But what we need to do is we’ve got to make sure that all the powers that already exist are in place as quickly as possible. The instructions that are going to come out of Ofcom as a result of the Online Safety Act aren’t going to go live until the end of this year… We need to get a grip on the challenge that we have right here.”
He also called on Ofcom, the regulator, to do more to combat the dark web, adding that If Labour came to power he would have the power to urge the regulator to “prioritise looking at certain issues”.
“I think the role of the dark web, the pathway in particular that people take from social media into the dark web, is something Ofcom could be looking at,” he said.
In her first interview since Jenkinson and Ratcliffe were sentenced, Brianna’s mother told the same programme she was prepared to meet Jenkinson’s family and did not “carry any hate” for her daughter’s killers but was unable to forgive them.
She also urged parents to sign a petition demanding changes to the law including the use of phones for those under 16 that do not allow access to social media apps.
“We’d like a law introduced so that there are mobile phones that are only suitable for under-16s,” she said. “So if you’re over 16 you can have an adult phone, but then under the age of 16, you can have a children’s phone, which will not have all of the social media apps that are out there now.
“And also to have software that is automatically downloaded on the parents’ phone which links to the children’s phone that can highlight key words. So if a child is searching the kind of words that Scarlett and Eddie were searching, it will then flag up on the parents’ phone.”
Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, said the Government was already going “one step further” to protect children from online harms by consulting on a ban on mobile phones in the classroom.