The dad of schoolgirl Molly Russell told an inquest that he believes “social media helped kill my daughter.” Molly, from Harrow, north-west London, ended her life in November 2017, prompting her family to campaign for better internet safety.
On Thursday the inquest heard how Molly used an anonymous Twitter account to reach out to celebrities and influencers for help.
The 14-year-old sent tweets to American actress Lili Reinhart and YouTube star Salice Rose, with one saying: “I can’t do it any more.”
Five years on from Molly’s death an inquest is now taking place.
What did Ian Russell tell the inquest?
Molly’s father, Ian Russell, was taken through the posts from the witness box on Thursday.
He said the messages sent to high profile figures were “particularly prevalent on Twitter”.
Mr Russell told North London Coroner’s Court that harmful and “normal” online content would have been “conflated” in a 14-year-old’s mind.
He was asked about his thoughts on the effect of Molly accessing “harmless” content on social media platforms, such as posts about fashion and pop music, by the family’s lawyer Oliver Sanders KC.
Mr Russell told the inquest that “digital technology can be brilliant”, but the difference between the two types of content “would be very much blurred” for his daughter.
Giving evidence, Mr Russell said: “I believe social media helped kill my daughter.
“I believe that too much of that content is still there and I believe there is a lack of transparency.
“Children shouldn’t be on a platform that presents a risk to their lives.”
What did he say about tweets sent to celebrities?
Mr Russell was taken through tweets to celebrities where his daughter said she “just can’t take it”.
One tweet, sent to Ms Reinhart by Molly, which was read to the court on Thursday, said: “I can’t take it any more.
“I need to reach out to someone, I just can’t take it.”
Mr Russell said: “It’s exactly that type of message … that was particularly prevalent on Twitter.
“On the Twitter platform… she reached out to celebrities with thousands or millions of followers who wouldn’t even notice one small tweet from someone like Molly.
“She was never really going to get a response.”
Other tweets, directed at YouTuber Ms Rose, said: “I can’t do it any more. I give up.”
Another said: “I don’t fit in this world. Everyone is better off without me.”
The inquest was told these tweets were sent a few months before the teenager died.
Mr Russell said the schoolgirl seemed to be “back to her normal self” shortly before she died.
The 59-year-old said his daughter seemed “excited” about things in the future and that in the two months before her death he thought the “passing phase she was going through had passed”.
What has Pinterest said?
Judson Hoffman, the company’s head of community operations, admitted emails sent to the teenager such as “10 depression pins you might like” was “the type of content that we wouldn’t like anyone spending a lot of time with”.
Giving evidence on Thursday, Mr Hoffman was taken through a vast number of “disturbing” images Molly had interacted with on the site relating to self-harm, suicide and depression.
Pinterest describes itself as a “visual discovery engine for finding ideas”, where users can save the “pins” they see to their own “boards” – said in court to be akin to creating a collage.
The court was shown two streams of content the 14-year-old saw, comparing the material she viewed earlier in her use of the platform and in the months closer to her death.
While the earlier content included a wide variety of material, the latter focused on depression, self-harm and suicide.
Asked by Oliver Sanders KC, the lawyer representing Molly’s family, if he agreed that the type of content had changed, Mr Hoffman said: “I do and it’s important to note, and I deeply regret that she was able to access some of the content shown.”
Mr Sanders asked: “Are you sorry it happened?”
Mr Hoffman replied: “I am sorry it happened.”
The senior executive said the technology available to the company now was “just not available to us” before Molly’s death.
The court heard Pinterest sent other emails to Molly with headings such as “depression recovery, depressed girl and more pins trending on Pinterest” and “new ideas for you in depression”.
Mr Hoffman was asked by Mr Sanders if he believed the images in the emails sent by the company were “safe for children to see”.
He replied: “I want to be careful here because of the guidance that we have seen.
“I will say that this is the type of content that we wouldn’t like anyone spending a lot of time with.”
Mr Sanders said “particularly children” would find it “very difficult… to make sense” of the content, to which Mr Hoffman replied: “Yes.”
Mr Hoffman admitted some images he was shown were ones he would “not show to my children”.
The inquest was told Molly made a number of boards on Pinterest, including two of interest to proceedings.
Mr Sanders said one board was called “stay strong”, which tended to “have more positive” material pinned to it, while the other board, with “much more downbeat, negative content”, was called “nothing to worry about”.
What was previously said at the inquest?
On Wednesday Mr Russell said his daughter received emails from social media giant Pinterest “promoting depressing content”.
He said the material his daughter had been exposed to on the internet was “hideous”, adding he was “definitely shocked how… readily available” it was on a public platform for people over the age of 13.
At North London Coroner’s Court on Wednesday, Mr Russell questioned how his 14-year-old daughter knew “how to get into this state” before her death, adding: “Whatever steps have been taken (by social media companies), it’s clearly not enough.”
Giving evidence from the witness box, Mr Russell was taken through his witness statement, which read: “I also looked briefly at Molly’s YouTube account and saw a… pattern – many normal teenage ‘likes’ and ’follows’, but a similar high number of disturbing posts concerning anxiety, depression, self harm and suicide.
“On the family computer I saw that Molly continued to receive emails after her death from another social media platform, Pinterest.
“I was shocked to see the subject lines of the emails clearly promoting depressing content.”
He added: “It is just the bleakest of worlds. It is not a world I recognise.
“It is a ghetto of the online world.”
Mr Russell said the “algorithms” then recommended similar content.
The inquest also heard of a statement given by Mr Russell, which had said the immediate family had noticed a change in Molly’s behaviour around the last 12 months of her life.
It read: “Molly became more withdrawn and spent an increased amount of time alone in her room, but she still happily contributed to family life. Molly also found it hard to get to sleep and it appeared she was often the last of us awake.
“I knew Molly had an Instagram account and a Twitter account as I also had accounts on these platforms and we ‘followed’ each other, as did other members of the family.
“Molly closed the Twitter account of hers that we were all following and it was only after her death that I found out she had opened another account on Twitter.
“We talked about risks from strangers online, not giving out personal details, only sharing photographs with friends, online bullying – that type of thing.
“We thought Molly’s changed behaviour in 2017 was just a reflection of normal teenage mood swings, coinciding with puberty, and although we were concerned we were not overly concerned.
“With the benefit of hindsight, I am able to recall some instances which did not seem as concerning at the time but take on more significance now.”
The inquest, which is expected to last up to two weeks, continues.
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