PRIME Minister David Cameron has called for a boycott of social media websites “which do not step up to the plate” in tackling cyberbullying.
His call came as major companies pulled their adverts from a website – ask.fm – which has been linked to the suspected suicide of a 14-year-old girl, Hannah Smith, last week.
Hannah was found dead on Friday after being bullied on the website and the backlash has seen Specsavers, Laura Ashley, Save the Children and Vodaphone pull adverts.
The furore follows Twitter executives being summoned to appear before the Commons culture, media and sport select committee to explain why it had failed to tackle rape threats made to Labour MP Stella Creasy and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez.
Mr Cameron said: “It’s not the case that there’s nothing we can do just because it’s online. I think there are some steps that need to be taken.
“First of all, the people that run these websites have got to step up to the plate, clean up their act and show some responsibility. It’s not acceptable what’s allowed to happen on these sites. It’s their responsibility, and those posting these hateful remarks, first and foremost.
“Just because something is done online doesn’t mean that it’s legal. If you incite hatred, if you incite violence, that’s a crime whether you do it in a television studio, on a soapbox or online, so these people can be chased.”
He added: “If websites don’t clean up their act and don’t sort themselves out then we as members of the general public have got to stop using these particular sites and boycott them.”
Hannah’s father, David Smith, said those who run the website should face charges and called for more regulation of social networking sites.
Ask.fm described Hannah’s death as a “true tragedy” and promised to work with police investigating the incident.
The question-and-answer site allows users to send messages to one another without their identity being disclosed.
Although users have to register an e-mail address, name and date of birth, those posting messages can do so anonymously.
Hannah, from Lutterworth, Leicestershire, was found by her sister Joanne, 16. Mr Smith, 45, found the ask.fm messages the morning after Hannah died.
“There’s something not right with the world today if people can tell somebody to die so many times that they actually do it,” he said.
“Me, personally, I think ask.fm – the people that run it – should get done for manslaughter or murder because you try contacting them and they just don’t care. They don’t care that teenagers are dying and killing themselves. These websites should be got rid of. If nothing else, they need to be regulated.”
A Specsavers spokesman said the company had instructed ask.fm to remove all of its adverts from the site due to “deep concerns over cyberbullying”.
Save the Children added: “As a result of the tragic case of Hannah Smith we no longer advertise on ask.fm.”