A novelist who blames Instagram for the suicide of her daughter has demanded a crackdown on social media sites. Nicola Harlow says 11-year-old Ursula killed herself after viewing ‘horrific and distressing’ images on the social network.
Ursula leapt to her death from a bridge in January last year shortly after finishing school for the day. She sent a last text message to her mother, reading: ‘I love you, so so sorry.’
Miss Harlow, 53, is the second parent to blame their child’s suicide on Instagram this year. Ian Russell has accused the site of helping to kill his 14-year-old daughter Molly.
Speaking publicly about her daughter’s death for the first time, Miss Harlow said a dramatic regulatory overhaul was needed to protect children online
The Open University lecturer and novelist said Instagram’s popularity was having a damaging effect on the mental health of vulnerable youngsters.
‘I believe that Instagram content was a factor in my daughter’s death. She certainly had been looking at these inappropriate images,’ said Miss Harlow.
‘They were horrific and disturbing. If I could turn back time I would have destroyed her phone. Instagram creates a fantasy life and children are too young to realise that it’s not real life. ‘They need protecting. They don’t realise the influence it has on them.’
Her daughter – described as a model pupil – was able to sign up to the photo-sharing site and access thousands of disturbing images despite being significantly below its age limit of 13.
Ursula began accessing ‘suicide sites’ on Instagram shortly after she started at the Lightcliffe Academy secondary school close to the family’s home in Halifax in September 2017.
Miss Harlow noticed self-harming scars on her daughter’s left arm shortly after it emerged she was being exposed to disturbing pictures. The discovery prompted Miss Harlow to confiscate her daughter’s phone, provoking a furious reaction she likened to that of an addict.
She said she deeply regretted her decision to return the phone after being advised by doctors that her daughter’s response ‘happened a lot’.