Fourteen-year-old died from self-harm, and web material probably contributed to death ‘in more than minimal way’, inquest finds
Molly Russell, 14, died as a result of self-harm when she had depression and was suffering from the “negative effects of online content”, a coroner has ruled.
The senior coroner Andrew Walker made his ruling as an inquest into the teenager’s death came to a conclusion at north London coroner’s court on Friday. The inquest had heard that Molly, from Harrow, north-west London, had interacted with large amounts of harmful social media content in the final months of her life.
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 that should not have been available to a 14-year-old.
“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 outside the court, Molly’s father, Ian Russell, 59, said: “In the last week we have 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.”
Molly viewed more than 16,000 pieces of content on Instagram in the final six months of her life, of which 2,100 were related to suicide, self-harm and depression. The inquest also heard how she had compiled a digital pinboard on Pinterest with 469 images related to similar subjects.
Elizabeth Lagone, the head of health and wellbeing policy at Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, apologised and admitted Molly had viewed posts that violated its content policies.
A senior Pinterest executive also apologised for the platform showing inappropriate content and acknowledged that the platform was not safe at the time Molly was on it.
The inquest heard evidence from a child psychiatrist, Dr Navin Venugopal, who said Molly had been “placed at risk” by the content she had viewed. The headteacher at Molly’s secondary school also gave evidence, describing how it was “almost impossible” to keep track of the risks posed to pupils by social media.
The chief executive of the child protection charity the NSPCC, Sir Peter Wanless, said: “The ruling should send shock waves through Silicon Valley. Tech companies must expect to be held to account when they put the safety of children second to commercial decisions. The magnitude of this moment for children everywhere cannot be overstated.”
The Russell family have become prominent campaigners for internet safety since Molly’s death and attended the inquest throughout.
In a pen portrait of his daughter that opened the inquest, Molly’s father paid tribute to a girl “full of love and hope and happiness”. He said she had been “struggling with her mental health and hiding her struggles from the rest of us while she battled her demons in the hope of finding peace”.
He added: “It is ‘OK not to be OK’ and … it is important to talk to someone trained or qualified whenever it is needed.”News