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Mother Seeks Access to Late Son’s Social Media Accounts to Understand His Death

Ellen Roome, the mother of 14-year-old Jools Sweeney, who was found dead in April 2022, is seeking full access to her late son’s social media accounts.

Roome said the coroner could not determine Jools’ death as a suicide because they could not establish he was in a “suicidal mood.”

Sweeney, who lived in Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, England, showed no signs of depression according to Roome. The police have ruled out any third-party involvement, leaving her with “absolutely no idea why he isn’t here anymore,” as reported by Sky News on Sunday.

Roome expressed her frustration, stating, “since my son’s death, I have not been able to access information to see what my son was looking at that could have contributed to him taking his own life.” She stressed the importance of parents having “full access to their child’s social media accounts either while they are still alive (to protect them) or if they die as in my case.”

In response, Roome started a petition titled, “Give parents/guardians a right to access social media accounts of their children,” aiming to have the matter debated in parliament. With the UK’s general election set for Thursday, July 4, 2024, all parliamentary petitions will close automatically on May 30, 2024. Roome has only a few days left to reach her 100,000-signature target, and as of the time of writing, the petition had 39,700 signatures according to PUNCH Online.

“It’s very ambitious,” she admitted, noting that the petition would “give me access to Jools’s information to find out why he died.”

On the impact of her son’s unexpected death, she said, “It’s impossibly hard, it’s horrific, it consumes me. I have to try the only thing we haven’t tried, and that is social media. It might not be that. But I don’t see why social media companies wouldn’t let me see if they’ve got nothing to hide.”

Quarter of children addicted to devices

A recent House of Commons Education Committee report recommended a statutory ban on mobile phones in schools, citing harmful effects on children’s mental and physical health from excessive screen time. In February 2024, the UK Department for Education issued guidance to headteachers on banning phone use during lessons, breaks, and lunch periods.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, noted that children use devices excessively outside of school. “Most schools already forbid the use of mobile phones during the school day or allow their use only in limited and stipulated circumstances. We have lost count of the number of times ministers have announced a crackdown on mobile phones in schools. It is a non-policy for a non-problem. The government should focus on regulating online platforms that allow children to access disturbing and extreme content,” he said.

The committee’s report showed a 52% increase in children’s screen time between 2020 and 2022, with a quarter of them using devices in an addictive manner. The report suggested that complete protection from harmful online content for children could only be achieved through the implementation of the Online Safety Act, recommending a ban on all under-16s having phones.

Roome responded, “I think there’s a bigger issue than banning outright under-16s. They still have access to other devices. We need to control what’s on those devices. It’s shocking what a child can see these days. Companies need to step up and stop waiting for the bill to make changes. I’m appealing to anyone to share my petition. I want this debated in parliament. Parents need the right to protect their children.”

Ian Russell, an online safety campaigner whose 14-year-old daughter Molly committed suicide after viewing harmful material, warned that such a ban would “cause more harm than good” and would “punish children for the failures of tech companies to protect them.” He added, “The quickest and most effective way to protect children’s online safety and wellbeing is to strengthen the Online Safety Act in the next parliament, and we call on all parties to commit to this in their manifestos.”

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