Social media companies 'should help bereaved parents'

A mother whose son died in unclear circumstances is calling on social media companies to allow parents access to their children's data.

Ellen Roome, from Cheltenham, found her 14-year-old son, Jools Sweeney, unconscious in his room in April 2022 and believes he may have taken part in an online challenge that went wrong.

But she said she cannot access his online data without a court order.

Campaigning for a change in the law, she said: "The loss of a child is impossibly hard and the loss of a child with no answers is horrific."

Ms Roome said she has tried to access Jools' social media, including his TikTok account, but the company has denied her request.

"It would be nice if social media companies just said 'here you go. I hope you find the answers'," she said.

"I want to know why my precious baby is no longer here. They should be helping bereaved parents."

Social media platforms TikTok and Snapchat have been in touch with Ms Roome following her contact with them.

TikTok said it would not be appropriate to comment before meeting her, which the BBC understands is happening on Friday.

But it added it removes 99% of videos showing or promoting dangerous content before it is reported by a user.

Meanwhile a spokesperson from Snapchat said: “Our hearts go out to Ms Roome and her family for the loss of Jools.

"We have extra protections for under 18s and offer parental tools so parents can see who their teens are communicating with and report any concerns."

The spokesperson added it is able to provide parents with access to data, "once we have followed legal steps to verify their identification".

Ms Roome said she has not had a response from Instagram, which has also been approached for comment by the BBC.

'Into every challenge'

Ms Roome said it was "wrong" that she needed a court order to be able to access her son's account data.

She has now set up a petition calling for parents to be given access to their children's social media accounts by social media providers.

It has reached more than 120,000 signatures and will be debated in parliament once a new government has been elected.

"I just want to know if he was talking to somebody who was perhaps not appropriate or whether there was some online challenge," she said.

"Jools was into every single challenge possible."

Ms Roome, who is part of the Bereaved Parents for Online Safety group, said her son had been "absolutely fine" before his death.

He could even be seen laughing on the family's doorbell camera in the hours before she found him.

Following an inquest, a coroner delivered a narrative verdict on Jools' death, adding it was unlikely he intended to take his own life, but with the exact events leading up to his death unclear.

Ms Roome said if she does not get access to her son's online data then she would be calling for a new inquest.

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