A London coroner has ruled the 2017 death of a 14-year-old girl a suicide as a result of hurtful social media posts.
Friday’s verdict comes at the conclusion of an inquest – or a coroner’s inquiry – into Molly Russell’s death five years ago, according to The Molly Rose Foundation (MRF), set up in memory of the 14-year-old to prevent suicide among people under 25.
Andrew Walker, coroner for the Northern District of Greater London, said her death was “an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content.”
Walker said online content Molly viewed on platforms including Instagram and Pinterest “was not safe” and “was not available for a child to view.”
The ruling was the first of its kind to directly blame the official death of a child rather than link the two on social media.
The MRF said in a statement on Friday, “The investigation has very clearly demonstrated that significant dangers exist on social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest in the absence of any effective regulation.” “It shows that if governments and technology platforms take action on the issues raised in the investigation, it will have a positive impact on the mental well-being of young people, which is the main goal of the Molly Rose Foundation.
“For social media, the Wild West era is over.”
“[I]If you are struggling, please Talk to someone Without engaging with online content that may be harmful you trust or one of the many support organizations,” he said, according to the MRF.
“Thank you, Molly, for being my daughter. Thank you,” Russell added. “We shouldn’t be sitting here. It’s not going to happen because it doesn’t have to happen. We told this story in hopes that change would come.”
A spokesperson for Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, said in a statement following the conclusion that the company is “committed to ensuring a positive experience for everyone, especially teenagers” and will “carefully consider the full coroner’s report.”
Pinterest apologized for content it promoted to Molly via email, including “10 depression pins you might like” and “depression recovery, depression girl and more trending pins,” according to the BBC.
“At its heart, this is about online safety,” the MRF said of the conclusion of the investigation into the 14-year-old’s death.
The verdict attracted national and international attention. Even Prince William made a statement about it.
“No parent should have to endure what Ian Russell and his family have endured,” William tweeted from the official Prince and Princess of Wales account. “They have been incredibly brave. Online safety for our children and young people needs to be a prerequisite, not an afterthought.”
According to the UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) a teenager may view such content over more mainstream content that includes videos and images of their peers, as well as influencers and models, which may prompt young users to make faulty comparisons between themselves and the content they see online.
“The ruling should send shockwaves through Silicon Valley – technology companies must be expected to be held to account when they put children’s safety second in commercial decisions. The scale of this moment for children everywhere cannot be understated,” NSPCC executive director Sir Peter Wanless said in a statement. “Molly’s family will forever pay for Meta and Pinterest’s failure to protect her from content no child should see, but the online safety bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reverse this imbalance between family and big tech.”
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or experiencing a mental health crisis and live in New York City, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL for free and confidential crisis counseling. If you live outside the five boroughs, you can call or visit the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.