Schoolgirl, 14, looked at social media posts about self-harm before taking own life, inquest hears


A schoolgirl looked at social media posts about self-harm too extreme for lawyers or police to view for long periods before she took her own life, a coroner’s court heard.

Molly Russell, 14, looked at a huge volume of ‘pretty dreadful’ Instagram posts that have now been disclosed to the investigation by its parent company Facebook.

The teenager, from Harrow, north-west London, viewed content linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide before ending her life in November 2017.

Her family found she had been viewing the material and her father Ian Russel accused Instagram of ‘helping to kill her’ in January last year. 

The inquest will look at how the algorithms used by social media giants to keep users hooked may have contributed to her death.

Molly Russell, 14, from Harrow, north-west London, looked at social media posts about self-harm too extreme for lawyers or police to view for long periods before she took her own life, a coroner’s court heard

At a pre-inquest review at Barnet’s Coroner’s Court today, Oliver Sanders QC said Facebook had recently released a ‘significant volume’ of material relating to the case, but it was too difficult for even lawyers and police to look at for too long.

Mr Sanders said: ‘We haven’t be able to review it all yet, some of it is pretty dreadful and it is not something that can be reviewed in a long sitting and certainly not late at night.’

He said that certain sections of the material had been redacted and that the police and lawyers for Molly’s family were trying to get more information from the social media giant as to why.

The court heard that the investigation was seeking the cooperation of five social media companies, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

Mr Sanders said Snapchat could not disclose data without an order from a US court, WhatsApp has deleted Molly’s account and that Twitter was reluctant to handover material due to European data protection laws.

The teenager (pictured in 2009) looked at a huge volume of 'pretty dreadful' Instagram posts have now been disclosed to the investigation by its parent company Facebook, the pre-inquest review heard

Molly pictured in 2015

The teenager (pictured left, in 2009, and right, in 2015) looked at a huge volume of ‘pretty dreadful’ Instagram posts have now been disclosed to the investigation by its parent company Facebook, the pre-inquest review heard

But he said the microblogging site had offered to reset Molly’s password if the police or her family were able to access the relevant email address.

Until recently, only Pinterest had cooperated fully, Mr Sanders said, disclosing about 10,000 pages of material.

The police were also able to download around 5,000 pages of material from Molly’s iPhone, including WhatsApp messages from her now-deleted account, the court heard.

Coroner Andrew Walker said ‘some or all’ of the social media companies mentioned could be named as interested parties in the inquest.

He said representatives from the tech giants would be ‘best placed’ to give technical information on how the algorithms used by their platforms push content towards users.

The police were also able to download around 5,000 pages of material from Molly's iPhone, including WhatsApp messages from her now-deleted account. Pictured: Images from websites similar to those Molly had been looking at

The police were also able to download around 5,000 pages of material from Molly’s iPhone, including WhatsApp messages from her now-deleted account. Pictured: Images from websites similar to those Molly had been looking at

Mr Walker also asked for a psychologist with expertise in the potential psychological impacts viewing extreme material would have on a teenager be appointed to give evidence. 

Molly’s father Ian was seated in court.

Since his daughter’s death, Mr Russell has been a vocal campaigner for reform of social media platforms and set up the Molly Rose Foundation in her memory.

In a report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists published in January, he said: ‘Among the usual school friends, pop groups and celebrities followed by 14-year-olds, we found bleak depressive material, graphic self-harm content and suicide encouraging memes.

‘I have no doubt that social media helped kill my daughter.’ 

The teenager viewed content linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide before ending her life in November 2017.

The teenager viewed content linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide before ending her life in November 2017.

It was only after her death in 2017 that Molly’s parents delved into her social media accounts and realised she was viewing distressing images.

She had previously shown ‘no obvious signs’ of severe mental health issues, her family said. 

One account she followed featured an image of a blindfolded girl, seemingly with bleeding eyes, hugging a teddy bear. 

The caption read: ‘This world is so cruel, and I don’t wanna to see it any more.’

Mr Russell said Molly had access to ‘quite a lot of content’ that raised concern.

Molly's father Ian (pictured last year) was seated in court. Since his daughter's death, Mr Russell has been a vocal campaigner for reform of social media platforms and set up the Molly Rose Foundation in her memory

Molly’s father Ian (pictured last year) was seated in court. Since his daughter’s death, Mr Russell has been a vocal campaigner for reform of social media platforms and set up the Molly Rose Foundation in her memory

‘There were accounts from people who were depressed or self-harming or suicidal,’ he told the BBC. 

‘Quite a lot of that content was quite positive. Perhaps groups of people who were trying to help each other out, find ways to remain positive to stop self-harming.

‘But some of that content is shocking in that it encourages self-harm, it links self-harm to suicide and I have no doubt that Instagram helped kill my daughter. 

‘The posts on those sites are so often black and white, they’re sort of fatalistic. 

‘[They say] there’s no hope, join our club, you’re depressed, I’m depressed, there’s lots of us, come inside this virtual club.’

A further pre-inquest review was listed for November 26 at 2pm, while the date of the inquest itself is yet to be set. 

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