Molly Russell took her own life at the age of 14, after accessing and interacting with thousands of harmful posts on social media. (Credit: Family handout/PA)
A coroner has told a court that teenager Molly Russell died from the “negative effects of online content” as an inquest into her death drew to a close.
Molly, 14, died in November 2017. Her family has campaigned for tighter restrictions on social media after it was found she had viewed and interacted with thousands of social media posts concerning self-harm, depression and suicide in the months leading up to her death.
The inquest was launched five years after her death, and the court heard from Molly’s family as well as bosses from social media compan Meta.
What did the coroner say about Molly Russell’s death?
Senior coroner Andrew Walker has now ruled that the material the teenager had accessed on the social media websites was “not safe” and that it “shouldn’t have been available for a child to see.” He said: “Molly was at a transition period in her young life which made certain elements of communication difficult.”
He described some of the posts which Molly had accessed as “particularly graphic, and that some posts had “romanticised acts fo self-harm”
Mr Walker concluded that it would not be “safe” to rule that Molly’s cause of death was suicide, adding that the 14-year-old “died from an act of self-harm while suffering depression and the negative effects of online content”.
He added: “At the time that these sites were viewed by Molly, some of these sites were not safe as they allowed access to adult content that should not have been available for a 14-year-old child to see. The way that the platforms operated meant that Molly had access to images, video clips and text concerning or concerned with self-harm, suicide or that were otherwise negative or depressing in nature.
“The platform operated in such a way using algorithms as to result, in some circumstances, of binge periods of images, video clips and text – some of which were selected and provided without Molly requesting them. These binge periods, if involving this content, are likely to have had a negative effect on Molly.”
As a result, Mr Walker concluded that it would not be “safe” to rule Molly’s cause of death as suicide, stating that the 14-year-old “died from an act of self-harm while suffering depression and the negative effects of online content”.
What has Molly’s family said about the ruling?
Speaking outside the North London Coroner’s Court after Mr Walker made his conclusions, Molly’s father, Ian Russell, spoke to reporters about the death of his daughter. Mr Russell said: “In the last week we’ve heard much about one tragic story – Molly’s story.
“Sadly, there are too many others similarly affected right now. At this point I just want to say however dark it seems, there is always hope, and if you’re struggling please speak to someone you trust or one of the many wonderful support organisations, rather than engage with online content that may be harmful.
“Please do what you can to live long and stay strong.”
At a press conference later in the day, Mr Russell criticised social media companies for not taking accountability for the content on the various differnet platforms. He said: “They didn’t really consider anything to do with safety.
“Sadly their products are misused by people and their products aren’t safe… That’s the monster that has been created but it’s a monster we must do something about to make it safe for our children in the future.”
Mr Russell added that he would ask Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg to “listen”, saying: “Listen to the people that use his platform, listen to the conclusions the coroner gave at this inquest, and then do something about it.
“It’s the corporate culture that needs to change, so that they put safety first instead of profits.”
What have social media companies said about the conclusions?
Bosses from Meta, which controls site such as Instagram and Facebook, attended proceedings during the inquest. Elizabeth Lagone, head of health and well-being at Meta, gave evidence as part of the inquest.
The court was shown some of the posts which Molly accessed through the six months leading up to her death. The posts were said to be so disturbing to some that the judge allowed anyone in court to leave while they were shown.
While giving evidence, Ms Lagone said: “We are sorry that Molly viewed content that violated our policies and we don’t want that on the platform.” However, the Meta boss added that the content was “nuanced and complicated”, before stating that it was “important to give people that voice” if they were experiencing suicidal thoughts.
After Mr Walker concluded that the posts in question did contribute to Molly’s death, Meta released a statement. A spokeswoman for the company said: a spokeswoman for Meta said: “Our thoughts are with the Russell family and everyone who has been affected by this tragic death.
“We’re committed to ensuring that Instagram is a positive experience for everyone, particularly teenagers, and we will carefully consider the coroner’s full report when he provides it. We’ll continue our work with the world’s leading independent experts to help ensure that the changes we make offer the best possible protection and support for teens.”
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