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TikTok ‘must apologise’ to James Bulger’s family over ‘harrowing’ AI clips of murdered boy


TikTok has been told to apologise to James Bulger’s family over the spread of “harrowing” AI-generated videos showing the two-year-old detail his murder.

An animated version of the toddler appears in the clips, describing the moments leading up to his death.

He was abducted from a Merseyside shopping centre on 12 February 1993 by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both 10 years old at the time, who then tortured and killed him.

Sky News has seen one video in which a photo of James is made to speak by animating his lips and giving him a generated voice explaining what happened.

The clip was easily found after TikTok said it had removed such videos for violating its guidelines.

The Chinese-owned firm was alerted to them after James’s mother, Denise Fergus, told The Mirror newspaper the videos were “beyond sick” and demanded they be taken down.

Denise Fergus, the mother of murdered toddler James Bulger, outside the Old Bailey in London, after one of his killers, Jon Venables, has been jailed at the Old Bailey for 40 months after he admitted having more than a thousand indecent images of children and a child abuse manual.
Denise Fergus, the mother of James Bulger

‘TikTok owes family an apology’

Kym Darby, chairwoman of James Bulger Memorial Trust, told Sky News there had been more than 100 clips on the platform and some were still slipping through.

“It’s absolutely shocking,” she said.

“Denise doesn’t mind people talking about James and what happened because it raises awareness, especially for the younger generation, but it’s overstepped the line.

“TikTok owe her a personal apology and some assurance they will all be taken down.”

TikTok said “there is no place on our platform for disturbing content of this nature” and “synthetic” media featuring likenesses of young people was banned and would be removed.

Government condemns ‘harrowing’ clips

A government spokesperson told Sky News the Online Safety Bill, its long-awaited internet safety legislation, would make social media platforms legally liable for upholding their terms of service.

“Harrowing clips such as this serve no purpose but to cause distress and upset,” they said.

“The Online Safety Bill, which will become law in a matter of months, will make sure the largest social media platforms act swiftly to enforce the rules they agree with their users, and decisively on any complaints made.

“Should they fail to keep the promises they make to users, the bill will give the media regulator, Ofcom, the power to take firm action – including issuing fines of up to £18m or 10% of global annual revenue.”

Read more:
Family outraged over James Bulger short film
James Bulger’s brother says killers ‘will never be forgiven’

A photograph of murdered two-year-old James Bulger lies beside the hundreds of flowers at the spot where his body was found in Walton, Liverpool. 19 Feb 1993
Flowers laid where his body was found in Walton, Liverpool

‘What is the mentality in doing this?’

Ms Darby said Ms Fergus’s husband, Stuart, contacted one of the producers of the clips, based in the Philippines.

“He asked them to please take it down,” she said.

“They came back and said, ‘we’re trying to raise awareness of these terrible cases’.”

Reports suggest AI-generated videos featuring other missing or murdered children, such as Madeleine McCann and Liverpool schoolboy Rhys Jones, have also been shared on TikTok.

Broadcaster Pete Price, who reported on the story of James’s murder more than 30 years ago, told Sky News’ Breakfast programme he was “incensed” by the reports.

“What is the mentality in doing this? That child wasn’t just slaughtered by two boys, he was tortured,” he said.

Close circuit footage shows James Bulger (L) being lead away in a shopping mall on 12 February 1993 before he was murdered
CCTV shows James (L) being led away in a shopping centre on 12 February 1993 before he was murdered

James’s killers, Venables and Thompson, were jailed for life but released on licence with new identities in 2001.

Venables, 40, was sent back to prison in 2010 and 2017, the latter for possessing indecent images of children.

He was turned down for parole in 2020.

The offending videos come as the government prepares to host a global summit on AI regulation later this year.

Internet safety campaigners are already calling for AI-generated images featuring children to be made a priority, with one group warning of the dangers of realistic abuse material.


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