‘Social media helped kill my daughter’: Molly Russell’s father says more safety measures needed online

·3-min read
Molly Russell’s father has said he believes social media helped kill his daughter (Family handout/PA)
Molly Russell’s father has said he believes social media helped kill his daughter (Family handout/PA)

The father of a 14 year-old girl has told an inquest he believes social media helped kill his daughter and that more safety measures are needed online.

Molly Russell’s father Ian said restrictions, like speed limits on roads, are accepted in the offline world but “those measures are not put in place in sufficient quantity in the digital world”.

“I believe that social media helped kill my daughter, I believe that too much of that content is still there and I believe there is a lack of transparency,” he added.

Molly Russell’s father Ian Russell (centre), mother Janet Russell (right) and her sister (left) arrive at Barnet Coroner’s Court on the first day of the inquest into her death (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)
Molly Russell’s father Ian Russell (centre), mother Janet Russell (right) and her sister (left) arrive at Barnet Coroner’s Court on the first day of the inquest into her death (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)

Molly, from Harrow, northwest London, is known to have viewed material linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide before her death in November 2017, prompting her family to campaign for better internet safety.

An inquest is being held at North London Coroner’s Court in Barnet almost five years after she ended her life.

The schoolgirl’s father on Thursday revealed she had reached out to celebrities and influencers through an anonymous Twitter account asking for help.

One Tweet, sent to American actress Lili Reinhart, was read to the court while Mr Russell was giving evidence.

It said: "I can’t take it anymore. I need to reach out to someone, I just can’t take it."

Mr Russell said: "It’s exactly that type of message ... that was particularly prevalent on Twitter."

Senior employees from Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, and Pinterest are due to give evidence in person during the inquest.

Under questioning from the lawyer for Molly’s family on Thursday, Pinterest’s head of community operations Judson Hoffman said he was “not able to answer” how children could agree to potentially being exposed to content inappropriate for a child.

In the platform’s terms of service, displayed to the coroner’s court, the inquest was told users were asked to report “bad stuff” if they saw it on the site.

The terms of service from November 2016 said users may be exposed to material that was “inappropriate to children”.

The inquest earlier heard the company does not distinguish between children and adults when accounts are set up.

The Russell family’s lawyer, Oliver Sanders KC, asked: “Bearing in mind it might be children who are opening the account ... when a user opens an account they have to agree there may be content that’s inappropriate for a child.

“If the user is a child, how can they agree to that?”

Molly Russell’s father Ian and mother Janet (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Molly Russell’s father Ian and mother Janet (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

”I’m sorry, I’m not able to answer that,” Mr Hoffman said.

Mr Hoffman said at the time Molly was a user on Pinterest, content was moderated mainly if it was reported by users.

Prohibited content would be hidden and made more difficult to find, however it would still be available if someone searched hard enough.

The court previously heard how on Twitter, Molly tweeted or retweeted 460 times, liked 4,100 tweets, was following 116 accounts and had 42 followers.

She was a much more active user of Pinterest, with more than 15,000 engagements, including 3,000 saves, in the last six months of her life.

Molly did not have a Facebook profile. But in the last six months of her life she was engaging with Instagram posts about 130 times a day on average.

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

For services local to you, the national mental health database - Hub of Hope - allows you to enter your postcode to search for organisations and charities who offer mental health advice and support in your area.