A coroner’s office has ruled that social media was a factor in the death of a 14-year-old British schoolgirl.
Molly Russell from Harrow in London, viewed material on platforms including Pinterest and Instagram, that “shouldn’t have been available for a child to see.”
Senior coroner Andrew Walker told a court that: “She died from an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content.”
Meta’s head of health and wellbeing Elizabeth Lagone appeared in person to give evidence during the inquest, along with Jodson Hoffman, Pinterest’s head of community operation.
Hoffman conceded Pinterest was not safe when Molly used it and “deeply regrets” some of the content that Molly viewed on the platform.
Molly’s family said she viewed Instagram posts that encouraged suicide and self-harm, but Meta’s Lagon told the hearing that some of the posts were safe and only two violated Instagram’s policies.
Instagram’s guidelines at the time said users were allowed to post content about suicide and self-harm to “facilitate the coming together to support” other users but not if it “encouraged or promoted” this.
Molly’s father Ian Russell spoke of the wider issue after the hearing: “In the last week, we’ve 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 organizations, rather than engage with online content that may be harmful. Please do what you can to live long and stay strong.”
Earlier this year, a Connecticut mother filed a lawsuit against Instagram for its alleged role in her daughter’s suicide which was linked to “extreme addiction” to social media.
In the lawsuit, Rodriguez says her daughter struggled for more than two years with “extreme addition to Instagram and Snapchat” even though Selena was technically too young to be using either service per each’s terms and conditions.
Last year, The Wall Street Journal obtained an internal report that revealed Meta knows that Instagram can be toxic and harmful for teen girls but executives have struggled to find a way to reduce that harm while also keeping people on the platform.
Meanwhile, the Governor of California Gavin Newsom has signed a bill aimed at protecting minors on social media. AB 2273 establishes the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act which is slated to go into effect on July 1, 2024.
Image credits:Header photo by Ian Russell.