In April this year, young campaigner Ben Saunders created a short film titled Transgender Experiences in School in which he attended an all-girls school as a transgender man.

In an Instagram post promoting his film, Ben described the school as being “extremely unaccepting of anyone who identifies as transgender”. This led to his decision to focus his campaign on the negative experiences of transgender people in school.

The film includes interviews with seven trans and non-binary young people from across north west England. The project opens a discussion on the lack of understanding surrounding trans identities in school and how it leads to a negative effect on their mental health and education.

Ben produced the film as part of his campaign for the Stonewall Young Campaigners Programme – the programme entailed creating a campaign aimed at promoting LGBTQ+ rights and equality – and Ben was later named Stonewall’s Young Campaigner of the Year.

Click the link below to watch Transgender Experiences in Schools. 

Will Instagram’s ban on self-harm images be enough to protect vulnerable users?

Earlier this week, Instagram announced that they were extending the ban of self-harm content to drawing and cartoons.

This follows their pledge in February to remove all graphic self-harm images from the website. This pledge was on the back of Instagram reviewing how safe they have kept their site for the community of vulnerable users.

Only a month before, the suicide of 14-year-old Molly Russell came to light. After Molly took her own life in 2017, her parents found she had viewed self-harm and suicide related content on her Instagram account. This could suggest her death was potentially influenced by viewing this content.

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Has Molly’s story changed social media? Find out tonight at 10pm on BBC news and online

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Poor mental health among young people is incredibly high. In a survey conducted by National Statistics UK in 2018, suicide in young males aged between 10-24 years old had risen to 9 deaths per 100,000 males in 2018. Moreover 3.3 young females per 100,000 lost their lives in 2018.

Also, according to, 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year. In further statistics, 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14; with 75% established by age 24.

In July 2019 it was recorded that, 37.2% of Instagram users were aged 13-24 years old. This means there is a large community of Instagram users can be considered vulnerable and at risk.


Molly has not been the only person potentially influenced by self-harm content on Instagram. In January this year, 16-year-old Libby spoke to the BBC about being ‘hooked’ on ‘viewing’ and ‘posting’ self-harm content on Instagram when she was 12-years-old. She recalled sharing “pictures of her fresh cuts” to an audience of 8,000 followers.

Her dad Ian recalled comments underneath Libby’s posts saying: “You shouldn’t have done it this way, you should have done it like that. Don’t do it here, do it there because there’s more blood.”

It is frightening to think that other Instagram users, who are potentially in a vulnerable position themselves, were encouraging Libby to self-harm and put herself at risk.

What’s more frightening is that when the family attempted to report the posts, Instagram responded that the pictures did not breach the community standards.

“The standard reply of such content not infringing the platforms’ community guidelines is still too often received when complaints are made.”

Ian Russell, the father of Molly, founded the ‘Molly Rose Foundation’ after her death. The foundation’s aim is suicide prevention with a focus on young people under the age of 25. They seek to help those suffering from mental illness by giving advice and connecting them with help.

Ian Russell believes a short-term solution is for social media websites to put more focus in reviewing reported content: “I think it is vital for platforms to respond more effectively to their customers’ requests to remove any harmful content found as the standard reply of such content not infringing the platforms’ community guidelines is still too often received when complaints are made.”

Nine months on, Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, announced how they will implement the removal of harmful drawings and memes: “We will no longer allow fictional depictions of self-harm or suicide on Instagram, such as drawings or memes or content from films or comics that use graphic imagery.”

“Accounts sharing this type of content will also not be recommended in search or in our discovery surfaces, like ‘Explore’.

However, from searching the Facebook owned app this week, it is clear there is still self-harm related content all over Instagram When searching the #selfharm tag and filtering the search to ‘accounts’ a number of accounts with triggering content pops up.

Whilst the pledge is a step in the right direction, Ian Russell is sceptical whether Instagram will follow through: “I think this is an important step forward and sets a lead that other platforms, who up until now have remained almost silent on this issue, to follow. However, it is very hard, from outside the tech corporations, to judge just how committed to the removal of harmful content Instagram really is.”

The biggest step Instagram has taken so far, is hiding posts that are categorized under the ‘#suicide’ tag. When you search the Instagram tag, it appears there are 8.4 million posts, but the results are concealed and instead, a ‘Get Support’ option appears.

This directs you to Instagram’s ‘Can We Help’ section of the website that gives you the opportunity to talk to someone or access information that other people have found supportive.

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Instagram claims that they have removed 834,000 pieces of content between April and June, with 77% being unreported by users. However, there are 95 million photos and videos shared on Instagram per day. Therefore, over the three-month period, Instagram only discovered an average of just over 9000 posts with dangerous content per day. This leaves room for millions of self-harm content being undiscovered by Instagram.


 The only way that Instagram can find the dangerous content is through the posts being reported or the images being tagged with suicide related terms. Therefore, it is likely a lot of harmful content is being missed.

Ian Russell feels that Instagram’s current algorithm will not allow much improvement in protecting vulnerable users: “It is likely that sizeable improvements will only be made if the platforms’ algorithms are adapted to provide better protection and stop the dangerous spread of harmful content, it would be more beneficial if any development in this area is freely shared to ensure as widespread benefit as possible.”

 The risk to the wider body of users, including those who are vulnerable, should be balanced against any benefit this content may bring to other communities.”

Instagram says it will not remove all content relating to suicide due to some being recovery stories which can be a form of support for some users. However, what might count as support to some, might trigger other vulnerable users.

Whilst Ian Russell thinks all users should be considered, he feels that vulnerable users should have the focus to ensure they are protected: “The risk to the wider body of users, including those who are vulnerable, should be balanced against any benefit this content may bring to other communities.”

Ian Russell believes a synergy between tech companies, academics and charities will be the best solution to helping vulnerable users: “I think the tech companies should more openly work together with academics and charities in this field, to ensure as much as possible is being done and it is co-ordinated across the whole industry.”

With Instagram making a conscious effort to protect vulnerable users, there is hope that other social media platforms will follow in form and create a safe community for young people at risk.

Read more from lifestyle here: 

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Halloween is fast approaching and with only one week to go, it is time to predict what the most popular costumes will be this spooky season!

With some ghoulish returns and some ghastly new faces, here are what I think will be the top 15 costume ideas of 2019.


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Celebrating The Freedom of Same-Sex Marriage & Abortion In Northern Ireland

As the clock struck one minute past midnight on the 22nd of October 2019, abortion and same sex marriage was legalised in Northern Ireland.

This arguably was the result of a long fought battle between grass roots activism and the DUP. The main factor behind the laws finally being passed in Northern Ireland is due to the collapse of their government in early 2017. This collapse meant the DUP could not veto decriminalisation as they’ve done before. With the affairs of Northern Ireland being shared with Conservatives as part of the coalition, these laws were passed.

Along with this, there was a high amount of political pressure placed on the government due to the Repeal the 8th movement which led to the Republic of Ireland legalising abortion in May 2018.


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Let today be the beginning of better #thenorthisnow ❤️💙💛💚💜

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However, the driving force behind the affairs being brought to Westminster was due to the overwhelming involvement of grassroots activism.  ‘Alliance for Choice’ and ‘Love Equality’ were among the organisations that fought heavily for the decriminalisation of abortion and same sex marriage. One notable protest took place on September 28th, 2019 by Alliance for Choice to mark International Safe Abortion Day. 21 women dragged suitcases through Belfast’s streets to represent the number of women who were forced to leave Northern Ireland weekly to access reproductive healthcare. Moreover, Love Equality organised a marriage equality march on the 18th.of May 2019 which was attended by roughly seven to eight thousand people.


Many Northern Irish citizens have moved on from traditional and old-fashioned mindsets which has helped with the legislation being passed. An opinion poll created by Amnesty International showed that almost 60% of Northern Ireland agreed abortion should be decriminalised. Moreover in 2018, a Sky Data poll recorded 76% of Northern Irish citizens were in support of same sex marriage.

Elly Makem, a conceptual illustrator now living in England, grew up in Northern Ireland with beliefs formed by school teachings. She shared the mindset that many others had that abortion was ‘black and white’ and homosexuality was ‘abnormal’. It was only after she left school at 18 that she managed to begin internally undoing their impact.

 “I didn’t think I would have sex until I was married, and it didn’t even come into my head that I could be gay, as our education was quite religious and very heteronormative.”

Elly agrees that Northern Ireland has moved on from traditional mindsets and that the country has seen a cultural shift in the past decade: “I think the societal revolution that’s happening in the western world at the minute with more ‘woke’ attitudes, has spoken to our more disadvantaged groups. Millennial culture is wholly more secular anyway, which has given us this opportunity to challenge the fundamentalism that exists in Northern Ireland in all of our communities.”

“Even though I went to two catholic schools, my understanding at the time was very similar to what the -mostly Protestant- DUP espouse now.”

School education can influence a person’s beliefs early on. Elly felt her teachers heavily influenced her mindset growing up: “I didn’t pay attention to politics much as a teenager, because I felt pretty disillusioned with the whole thing, however I completely took in what my teachers said. I didn’t think I would have sex until I was married, and it didn’t even come into my head that I could be gay, as our education was quite religious and very heteronormative. I also remember thinking abortion was a very black and white issue that was mostly caused by promiscuous women.”

She felt her beliefs were very close minded due to growing up in this incredibly polarized environment: “I think when you grow up in a place that’s so polarised, like Northern Ireland, you become a lot less flexible with your beliefs. Even though I went to two catholic schools, my understanding at the time was very similar to what the -mostly Protestant- DUP espouse now.”

Although Elly came out when she was 19, she had romantic feelings for women for around 7 years before that but felt she had to ‘stay in the closet’: “It didn’t come into my head that my feelings were homosexual because my idea of homosexuality was that it was a very strange thing that didn’t apply to me, so I forced myself into trying to be straight.” 

“I don’t know one gay person my age from back home who didn’t struggle with their mental health as a teenager”

Due to the lack of LGBT+ resources in school and non-accepting cultural attitudes. this incredibly impacted the mental health of LGBT+ people growing up in Northern Ireland. A number of people Elly knew growing up, experienced this impact: “I don’t know one gay person my age from back home who didn’t struggle with their mental health as a teenager, and I think that’s totally down to the restrictive and shaming attitudes we have towards queerness. If I was told how common homosexuality is and that it’s fine, then I don’t think I would have struggled so much.”

Elly Makem runs a conceptual art business. She created a design in the light of the decriminalisation of abortion and same sex marriage and after many requests, she made the design into prints, tote bags and t-shirts. She felt this particular design was close to her heart: “I’ve made posters and t shirt designs before, however when I was finalising this one, I definitely felt more passionate about it than any of those projects. I think it was only when I was writing to describe the image did I realise how important it felt to me.”

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Art by Elly Makem

A portion of the profits made from the products will be going to ‘The Rainbow Project’, a charity very important to her: “I chose to donate to this charity as for me, the individual needs for queer people often need to be tackled in a holistic way. I don’t think legislative reform is the end of our struggle, and TRP does a fantastic job at helping people in more personal ways that really should be offered by our schools.”

Despite the legalisation of same sex marriage being a big win for the LGBT+ community, Elly feels the fight isn’t over yet: “In regard to law-making I am over the moon about this result, however I feel education and exposure can do so much for young queer people even more so. Education reform is something we should continue to campaign for.”

There is already evidence of the new abortion law in Northern Ireland creating a safer and better future. Belfast’s Crown court has recently dropped charges against a mother who bought abortion pills for her daughter. A new framework providing safe and lawful access to abortion services in Northern Ireland will be in place by 31st March 2020.

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