The tragic death of Molly Russell: How 'harmful' social media 'killed' 14-year-old

This ruling is unique and the first of its kind to directly blame social media for a child’s official death, instead of just correlating the two

The tragic death of Molly Russell: How 'harmful' social media 'killed' 14-year-old
Molly Russell had liked over 2,000 pictures of depression, suicide, and self-harm on various social media platforms before her death (BBC News screenshot/YouTube)
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Trigger Warning: This article includes comments about suicide and depression that could be traumatic for some readers. Discretion is advised.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM: The tragic 2017 death of Molly Russell, 14, has been ruled by a London coroner as a suicide resulting from harmful social media posts. The ruling came at the conclusion of an inquest into Molly's death five years ago, according to The Molly Rose Foundation (MRF) established in her memory to prevent suicide among people who are less than 25 years old.

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Coroner Andrew Walker of the Northern District of Greater London said her death was “an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content.” According to New York Post, Walker said the online material that Molly accessed on social media platforms, including Instagram and Pinterest, “was not safe” and “should not have been available for a child to see.”

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Molly had liked more than 2,000 pictures of depression, suicide, and self-harm on various social media platforms before her death. In the last six months leading up to the tragedy, the schoolgirl "liked" 2,100 photographs on Instagram that dealt with sadness, self-harm, and suicide. 

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This ruling is unique and the first of its kind to directly blame social media for a child’s official death, instead of just correlating the two. "The inquest has demonstrated very clearly the significant dangers social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest present in the absence of any effective regulation,” MRF said in a statement. “This shows that if government and tech platforms take action on the issues raised in the inquest, it will have a positive effect on the mental well-being of young people, which is the key aim of the Molly Rose Foundation. For social media, the Wild West era is over,” the organization added.

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After the ruling, Molly’s father, Ian Russell, said “there is always hope” no matter how “dark it seems". “[I]f you’re struggling, please speak to someone you trust or one of the many support organizations, rather than engage with online content that may be harmful,” he said, according to MRF.

“Thank you, Molly, for being my daughter. Thank you,” Russell added. “We should not be sitting here. This should not happen because it does not need to happen. We told this story in the hope that change would come about.”

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Following the ruling, a spokeswoman for Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, said in a statement that the company is “committed to ensuring that Instagram is a positive experience for everyone, particularly teenagers” and would “carefully consider the coroner’s full report.”

According to the BBC, Pinterest has apologized for the content it promoted to Molly via email, such as “10 depression pins you might like” and “depression recovery, depressed girl and more pins trending on Pinterest". “At its heart, this is about online safety,” MRF said of the conclusion of the inquest into Molly's death.

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If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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