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‘Global first’ ruling that online content contributed to Molly Russell’s death

Andrew Walker concluded the 14-year-old died ‘from an act of self-harm while suffering depression and the negative effects of online content’.

Image: PA

Updated Sep 30th 2022, 9:09 PM

A SENIOR CORONER’S conclusion that schoolgirl Molly Russell died while suffering from the “negative effects of online content” has been hailed the first of its type.

Andrew Walker said online material viewed by the teenager on sites such as Instagram and Pinterest “was not safe” and “should not have been available for a 14-year-old child to see”.

Head of child safety online policy at the children’s charity the NSPCC, Andrew Burrows, said it was the “first time globally it has been ruled that content a child was allowed and encouraged to see by tech companies contributed to their death”.

Molly’s father Ian Russell said he hoped the conclusion would be an “important step in bringing about much-needed change” and asked Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg to “just listen… and then do something about it”.

Welling up as he ended proceedings at a press conference in Barnet, north London, on Friday, Mr Russell’s voice broke as he said: “Thank you, Molly, for being my daughter. Thank you.”

Britain’s Prince William, who met Mr Russell in November 2019, said on Twitter: “No parent should ever have to endure what Ian Russell and his family have been through.

“They have been so incredibly brave. Online safety for our children and young people needs to be a prerequisite, not an afterthought.”

Concluding it would not be “safe” to rule the cause of Molly’s death as suicide, Mr Walker said the teenager “died from an act of self-harm while suffering depression and the negative effects of online content”.

At North London Coroner’s Court, he said: “At the time that these sites were viewed by Molly, some of these sites were not safe as they allowed access to adult content that should not have been available for a 14-year-old child to see.

“The way that the platforms operated meant that Molly had access to images, video clips and text concerning or concerned with self-harm, suicide or that were otherwise negative or depressing in nature.

“The platform operated in such a way using algorithms as to result, in some circumstances, of binge periods of images, video clips and text – some of which were selected and provided without Molly requesting them.

“These binge periods, if involving this content, are likely to have had a negative effect on Molly.”

The inquest was told Molly accessed material from the “ghetto of the online world” before her death in November 2017, with her family arguing sites such as Pinterest and Instagram recommended accounts or posts that “promoted” suicide and self-harm.

Meta executive Elizabeth Lagone said she believed posts seen by Molly, which her family say “encouraged” suicide, were safe.

Pinterest’s Judson Hoffman told the inquest the site was “not safe” when Molly used it.

Speaking after the conclusion of the inquest, Mr Burrows said: “This is social media’s big tobacco moment.

“For the first time globally it has been ruled that content a child was allowed and encouraged to see by tech companies contributed to their death.

“The world will be watching their response.”

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