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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Schoolgirl’s father says ‘social media helped kill my daughter’

Mr Russell has argued that ‘breaking the stigma that surrounds mental health, self-harm and suicide is literally vital’ (Picture: PA/Rex)

The father of 14-year-old Molly Russell has told her inquest that social media was a key factor in her death.

Ian Russell looked at his daughter’s web history after her death and discovered dozens of accounts exploring depression or suicide she had been
corralled into viewing by algorithms.

US bosses from Pinterest and Instagram’s parent company Meta have been ordered to give evidence after Mr Russell spoke of the torment Molly had suffered online.

‘No-one is immune from such tragedy, it is closer to all of us than we would care to think,’ Mr Russell told North London coroner’s court.

‘Just as Molly would have wanted, it is important to seek to learn whatever we can and then to take all necessary action to prevent such a young life being wasted again.’

The schoolgirl, of Harrow, in north London, followed more than 40 Instagram sites that were connected in some way to anxiety, depression, self-harm or suicide, up to her death in November 2017, Mr Russell continued.

Even after her death, she continued to receive emails from Pinterest with subject lines ‘clearly promoting depressing content’, her father said.

The schoolgirl also used an anonymous Twitter account to reach out to celebrities and influencers for help, an inquest has heard.

Molly Russell followed more than 40 Instagram sites that were connected in some way to anxiety, depression, self-harm or suicide (Picture: PA)
She desperately reached out to celebrities, such as actress Lili Reinhart, for help (Picture: Rodin Eckenroth/FilmMagic)

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.’

Mr Russell, who was taken through the posts from the witness box today, said: ‘I believe social media helped kill my daughter.’

He said the messages sent to high profile figures were ‘particularly prevalent on Twitter’.

Molly had once been a happy and confident teenager, interested in horse-riding and popular with her friends and teachers, he also recalled during this week’s inquest.



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But she ‘hid her demons’ as she ‘imperceptibly’ began to struggle in the online world, becoming an ‘avid fan’ of influencers who spoke of suicide attempts and battles with depression.

‘We thought Molly’s changed behaviour in 2017 was just a reflection of normal teenage mood swings and, although we were concerned, we were not overly concerned.’

The teenager ‘brushed off’ inquiries about her feelings but opened a secret Twitter account in which she revealed her thoughts and was interacting with Instagram posts 130 times a day in the months before her death.

Mr Russell said four school-age children took their lives each week in the UK, and one in 15 people will attempt suicide at some point. ‘Breaking the stigma that surrounds mental health, self-harm and suicide is literally vital,’ he said.

Under questioning from the lawyer for Molly’s family today, Judson Hoffman, head of global operations at Pinterest, said the company was willing ‘to learn and help through this process’.

US bosses from Pinterest and Instagram’s parent company Meta have been ordered to give evidence after Mr Russell spoke of Molly’s torment (Picture: PA)
‘Social media helped kill my daughter’ said Moll’s father Ian Russell (Picture: Jeff Gilbert/Shutterstock)

Giving evidence from the witness box on Thursday, he told North London Coroner’s Court: ‘We are always open to considerations on ways in which we can be better and parental controls are areas in which we are interested in.

‘In general, the way the product is set up right now, it allows that visibility for the parent.’

He added he felt ‘deep regret’ over the content Molly saw online.

People over the age of 13 can use Pinterest and Coroner Andrew Walker asked if the company distinguished between children and adults when accounts are set up.

‘No, we do not,’ Mr Hoffman replied.

The inquest continues.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

For more stories like this, check our news page.



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