IMAGES on social media of self-harm and suicide "normalise" such behaviour and leave people at risk, the suicide prevention minister has said.

Jackie Doyle-Price, warned that this content now poses an online threat as worrying as child grooming.

In a speech to the National Suicide Prevention Alliance conference, she said: "Many of you in this room will have been moved by the story of Molly Russell which was recently in the news.

"I'm very grateful to her father Ian for his courage in sharing her story and I've viewed the material that Molly accessed using her Instagram account.

"I have no doubt that the suicide and self-harm content of the kind that Molly viewed had the effect of normalising self-harm.

"In normalising it, it has an effect akin to grooming.

"We have embraced the liberal nature of social media platforms, but we need to protect ourselves and our children from the harm which can be caused by both content and behaviour."

The family of Molly Russell, 14, found she had viewed content on social media, which was linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide. She took her own life in November 2017.

Ms Doyle-Price, confirmed she is due to meet Facebook on Tuesday to discuss the issue. She explained that if social media did not act, the government was prepared to introduce regulation to tackle this.

She continued: "We must look at the impact of harmful suicide and self-harm content online. I am hugely encouraged that the government's forthcoming White Paper to address online harms will consider what more can be done to address this harmful content online.

"If companies cannot behave responsibly and protect their users, we will legislate. Providers ought to want to do this.

"They shouldn't wait for government to tell them what to do. It says a lot about the values of companies if they do not take action voluntarily."

Ms Doyle-Price has asked internet companies to "step up to their responsibilities" when it comes to protecting users.

National Suicide Prevention Alliance co-chair Brian Dow, said some social media companies have "dragged their heels" on the issue.

Also on Tuesday, digital minister Margot James, is expected to announce new government policy that could force social media firms to remove illegal content and sign a code of conduct protecting vulnerable users.

On Thursday, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is due to meet Instagram officials to see how the company is tackling harmful online content.