Online content contributed to Molly Russell’s death, rules coroner

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Unsafe online content contributed “in a more than minimal way” to the death of Molly Russell who took her own life, an inquest has found.

Senior coroner Andrew Walker said material viewed by the 14-year-old Molly on social media “shouldn’t have been available for a child to see”. Molly, from Harrow, viewed thousands of images of self-harm and suicide before she died in November 2017.

The two-week inquest focused on Molly’s use of Instagram and Pinterest. Executives at both US-based companies gave evidence at the hearing, which showed how Molly had viewed graphic content in the months before she killed herself in November 2017.

Concluding it would not be safe to rule Molly’s cause of death as suicide, Walker said some of the sites viewed by her were “not safe” because they allowed access to adult content. 

“It is likely that the above material viewed by Molly, already suffering with a depressive illness and vulnerable due to her age, affected her in a negative way and contributed to her death in a more than minimal way,” said Walker, delivering his findings of fact at the inquest.

In his conclusion, he said Molly “died from an act of self-harm whilst suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content”.

Speaking after the verdict, Molly Russell’s father Ian Russell talked about the ‘monster’ created by social media – and had a message for Mark Zuckerberg. “They didn’t really consider anything to do with safety,” Ian Russell said at a news conference.

“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.

“It’s the corporate culture that needs to change, so that they put safety first instead of profits.”

Mr Russell said his message to Mark Zuckerberg, boss of Instagram owner Meta, would be a “simple” one – “to listen”. 

“Listen to the people that use his platform, listen to the conclusions the coroner gave at this inquest, and then do something about it,” he added.

Chris Price
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