An Instagram moderator has accused the social media giant of ‘cutting costs’ when it comes to prioritising safety in the wake of the Molly Russell inquest.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, she said the multibillion-pound company could do ‘much, much better’ in protecting children on the platform.
The moderator, who joined a year after the 14-year-old took her own life, said most of those posting self-harm content appeared to be young teenage girls.
Admitting she was ‘not qualified’ to deal with mental health issues, she told how colleagues had been ‘concerned’ by the sheer amount allowed to remain on the site.
An Instagram moderator has accused the social media giant of ‘cutting costs’ when it comes to prioritising safety in the wake of the Molly Russell (pictured) inquest
The moderator, who joined a year after 14-year-old Molly died, said most of those posting self-harm content appeared to be teenage girls
Instagram has since banned all self-harm and suicide content, which the moderator described as a ‘positive’ step that made the job ‘easier’.
It meant staff no longer had to ‘ponder whether the amount of cuts and blood’ made it necessary to take it down or ‘try to make out whether the user was in danger or not’.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, she said: ‘However, I think they still could do much, much better – and I don’t think they are prioritising it money-wise. I feel like they are cutting costs sometimes.’
Molly Russell became the first child in the world in which social media was formally found to have contributed to their death on Friday.
The inquest heard how the 14-year-old engaged with thousands of self-harm posts and binge watched suicide videos on Instagram in the lead up to her death in 2017.
Giving evidence, the company’s head of health and wellbeing Liz Lagone claimed the platform was ‘safe’ for children and defended its policy of leaving such content up if it was ‘admissive’.
Shown the content Molly had interacted with, the senior executive claimed it did not ‘promote’ self-harm and instead benefitted users by letting them ‘express themselves’.
The social media giant changed its policy in 2019 to ban all such material after expert advice that it could ‘unintentionally’ encourage users to carry out such acts.
Now, for the first time, an Instagram moderator has given a glimpse into how the platform dealt with material a coroner ruled ‘contributed to [Molly’s] death in a more than minimal way’.
Giving evidence, Instagram owner Meta’s head of health and wellbeing Liz Lagone (pictured arriving at the inquest) claimed the platform was ‘safe’ for children and defended its policy of leaving such content up if it was ‘admissive’
The moderator, who moved to another job within Meta a few weeks ago, told how they would have to get through around 200 accounts a day – giving them around one to two minutes on each.
Instagram encouraged moderators to ‘take our time’ when it came to dangerous content like self-harm, she said, but there was still a ‘lot of time pressure’.
‘The scale of what we were doing could sometimes feel overwhelming.’
Having studied a languages degree and her career until then working in ‘basic accounting’ in an office, she said had no experience or training in dealing with mental health issues.
‘I don’t think I felt qualified. I just did what had to be done,’ she said. ‘We had guidelines. If there is any indication the user was posting something like a farewell or goodbye, or posting a picture of something that maybe me a method for suicide, and it was within 24 hours, we would be escalating it to law enforcement.’
‘But it was up to us to make that call. Sometimes it could be hard to tell. I was always trying to err on the side of caution.’
Oliver Sanders KC, the Russell family’s lawyer, questioned Ms Lagone during the inquest why it was up to Instagram to create a platform for users to share their experiences of self-harm and suicide and then decide if this was helpful for them or not – particularly for those under-18 viewing it.
Ian Russell, Molly’s father, during a press conference in north London after the inquest
The moderator said that the guidelines before the change had been ‘confusing’ and ‘unintuitive’ – and she and several colleagues had become ‘concerned’ over how much remained on the platform.
‘I felt like there was too much graphic stuff – and it had no business being there. But it stayed up because it was admission.’
Most of the self-harm content was being share by teenage girls, she said, with many appearing to be a year or so young than the platform’s minimum age limit of 13.
Often they would have two accounts – one public facing and another more private profile that would share the more dangerous content. This would often be related to eating disorder content – with some posting stories from their hospital bed, she said.
The policy change in 2019 signalled the first time Instagram appeared to begin treating moderation ‘more seriously’ and put ‘more resources’ into it.
But asked whether she thought Instagram was safe for teenagers, the moderator said: ‘I think there’s no such thing as safe social media – safety is an illusion.
The Daily Mail was put in touch with the moderator by Foxglove, which is working with social media content moderators to fight for better conditions and pay.
Meta said it invested ‘billions of dollars each year’ in its moderation teams and technology to keep its platform safe.
Technology now plays a ‘more central role’ in proactively detecting harmful content and prioritises the ‘most critical content to be reviewed by people’.
Everyone who reviews the content goes through an ‘in-depth, multi-week training program on our Community Guidelines and has access to extensive psychological support to ensure their wellbeing’.
For help or support, visit samaritans.org or call the Samaritans for free on 116 123
Grieving parents back her family’s fight
Grieving parents have joined Molly Russell’s father’s fight to stop social media giants making a fortune while providing children with images promoting suicide and self-harm.
Architect Mariano Janin, whose daughter Mia, 14, died after being bullied online, and Ruth Moss, whose daughter Sophie Parkinson committed suicide at 13 after viewing disturbing internet content, both said yesterday they were supporting TV director Ian Russell, 59.
Mr Janin, 58, from north London, told The Sunday Times: ‘Ian achieved something important… but we now need to carry on his campaign. I was watching the inquest with tears in my eyes. I know as well the pain Ian carried for the last five years because it has happened to me too.’ Mia’s inquest will continue next year.
Following Sophie’s death eight years ago, Miss Moss said she wants online giants, including individual bosses personally, to face prosecution for the role they played, adding: ‘Very little has changed since Sophie died.’