Brianna Ghey’s mother warns tech bosses that more children will die if no action is taken

Brianna Ghey’s mother has called for her murder to be a “tipping point” in the way society views “the mess” of the internet, warning that a generation of anxious young people will grow up without resilience.

Esther Ghey said tech companies had a “moral responsibility” to limit access to harmful online content. She supports a total ban on social media access for under-16s – a measure currently under discussion in some legislatures, including Florida in the US.

She believes her daughter was vulnerable after spending so much time online and not connecting with her real friends. Ghey said she also believes Brianna would still be alive if her killers had not had access to violent content on the dark web and the mainstream internet when they plotted her murder on February 11 last year.

Speaking to the Guardian, the 37-year-old food technologist said tech bosses were also to blame when it came to the wave of anxiety and mental health problems in children, which she said had led to “a complete lack of resilience in young people”. .

She said tech companies need to think not only about Brianna’s murder, but also about “the number of young people who have committed suicide” as a result of their harmful experiences online.

Esther Ghey speaks at a vigil for Brianna a year after her murder. Photo: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

She credited have to form “stable relationships”.

She warned that without action from tech companies, more children would die and that “more people will have mental health problems and as a society we will become less and less resilient and less empathetic.”

Ghey said the makers of smartphone apps and social media sites were “intelligent people” who, more than parents or governments, had a duty to protect the mental health of young smartphone users.

“They are the ones who created this technology. They’re the ones who got us into this mess in the first place. And I think it’s their responsibility to get us out of this mess,” she said.

She added: “I think they have a moral responsibility to protect young people and society in general, but especially our young people, because they are the next generation of people who are going to govern the country. And right now I think it has such an impact on them.”

Parents cannot be expected to monitor the internet alone, Ghey says. “It takes a village to raise a child. We all need to come together and see what we can do, but I think the responsibility lies mainly with the technology companies because they have created all this technology. Maybe they just didn’t realize how much it would blow up and what the impact would be. But these people are intelligent people. So how could they not have predicted what the impact would have been in the first place?”

When asked if she wanted the likes of Apple and Google to think about Brianna’s death, she said, “I don’t think they should just think about Brianna’s death.” What about the number of young people who committed suicide? What about people who suffer from an eating disorder? What about people who self-harm, people who have anxiety? There is a wealth of (harmful) material for people who are really struggling right now and I think the use of smartphones has had a huge impact on that.”

Brianna had a large TikTok following and dreamed of becoming “TikTok famous.” She had also formed close friendships with other transgender people online. But her mother believes social media has done her more harm than good, and that if she hadn’t been so anxious, she would have found “her tribe” in the offline world.

Personal contact was important, especially for young, vulnerable people, she said.

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“From face-to-face contact you get that empathy and understanding and you realize that other people are people too. Whereas when you’re behind the keyboard, people feel like they can say whatever they want when they’re behind the screen. I think for children we need to make sure they have real social interaction with people.”

She compared social media to drug treatment, where regulators must weigh whether the benefits outweigh the side effects. “I think the cons definitely outweigh the pros of social media for young people,” she said.

Ghey is campaigning for the introduction of ‘child phones’ without social media apps, which are linked to their parents’ devices. The parents were alerted when the child downloaded something or searched for alarming content.

Scarlett Jenkinson, who murdered Brianna with Eddie Ratcliffe, had downloaded an app to access the dark web when she was 14, and told the jury she enjoyed watching real videos of torture and death.

Police release footage of teens arrested for murder of Brianna Ghey – video report

Both defendants, who were just 15 when they planned and carried out the murder in Culcheth Linear Park, Warrington, searched the internet several times for methods of killing.

“I think if there was the technology where certain words would be noticed, they might still be with us. It would have made things a lot more difficult for Scarlett and Eddie,” Ghey said.