Daily Mail

‘Molly was full of love, hope and happiness ... but she was trapped by the online ghetto normalisin­g self-harm and suicide’

Father’s grim words at inquest

- By Jim Norton Technology Editor

MOLLY Russell spent her last moments online looking for material about depression, an inquest heard yesterday.

The 14-year-old schoolgirl, who was exposed to the ‘bleakest of worlds’ on the internet, took her own life shortly after a post in 2017.

But five years on, her father Ian Russell said children were ‘still in danger’ on social media platforms as he accused them of not doing enough to combat the problem.

Giving evidence, he said the sites’ business model had ‘ no regard for safety’ – with young users unable to ‘escape’ algorithms that continued to promote harmful content.

Mr Russell said his daughter grew up ‘full of love and hope and happiness’, but she became increasing­ly withdrawn and spent more time alone in her room.

He told how she had been fallen into an online ‘ghetto’ that normalised self-harm, depression and suicide content.

The inquest heard that the last interactio­n Molly had online before her death on November 21, 2017 was on Instagram at 12.43am.

She saved a post that said: ‘The worst thing depression did to me was take my intelligen­ce. Feeling yourself getting dumber and dumber is absolutely painful’. The family’s lawyer, Oliver Sanders KC, said that ‘within an hour or two hours she was dead’.

The inquest heard how her mother Janet found her daughter’s body on the morning of her death. Mr Russell gave her CPR before paramedics arrived, but they pronounced her dead.

The two-week inquest at North London

‘Clearly promoting depressing content’

Coroner’s Court will look into how algorithms used by social media giants keep users hooked and may have contribute­d to the teenager’s death.

Executives from Meta, which owns Instagram, and from image-sharing platform Pinterest are being flown in this week to give evidence.

On the first day of evidence, the court was given an insight into the online world Molly was accessing every day as she struggled with anxiety and depression.

Her father said: ‘It’s just the bleakest of worlds. It’s a ghetto of the online world that once you fall into it, the algorithm means you can’t escape it and keeps recommendi­ng more content.’

Molly, from Harrow, north-west London, was said to have followed more than 40 accounts that ‘were connected, in some way, to anxiety, depression, self harm or suicide’ and ten similar accounts that followed her.

Her parents were ‘ shocked how hideous, graphic, harmful it was’ – particular­ly given that the minimum age limit for users was 13.

On YouTube, there was a ‘similar high number of disturbing posts concerning anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide’, the court heard.

The schoolgirl was an ‘avid fan’ of US YouTuber Salice Rose, who has 15million subscriber­s and speaks openly about her attempted suicide and depression.

Mr Russell said that even after Molly’s death she had continued to receive emails from Pinterest – on the family computer – that were ‘clearly promoting depressing content’.

He said that despite the highprofil­e of Molly’s case, tech platforms were still not doing enough to combat the problem. He said: ‘Sadly, as recently as August this year, I have seen similarly horrific content on the platforms particular­ly on Instagram.

‘So whatever steps have been taken, it’s apparent to me that [users are] not protected enough. Young people are still in danger.’

A year before she took her own life, Molly set up a secret Twitter account. Though she spent much less time on it than other platforms, it gives an insight into her deteriorat­ing mental health and cries for help. Her father only discovered the account after her death. He believes the handle ‘Idfc_nomore’ stands for ‘I don’t f****** care no more’.

In a moving tribute to his daughter, Mr Russell told the hearing: ‘Five years ago, the Russell family life was unremarkab­le.

‘Yet impercepti­bly our adorable youngest family member, Molly, had been struggling with her mental

health and hiding her struggles from the rest of us while she battled her demons in the hope of finding peace.

‘As Molly’s feeling of worthlessn­ess grew and her sense of helplessne­ss deepened, ending her life seemed to her like a solution, while to us her life seemed very normal.

‘It’s all too easy to dwell on the events that led Molly to end her life. It’s all too easy to forget the person she really was: someone full of love and hope and happiness, a young person full of promise and opportunit­y and potential.’

Mr Russell described how Molly had been an ‘easy going young girl’ who was ‘always the one who could be relied on to snuggle up to you on the sofa’.

But the family noticed a change in her behaviour during the last 12 months of her life, as she became ‘more withdrawn and spent an increased amount of time alone in her room’.

But she still happily contribute­d to family life, he said, and they assumed it was ‘just a reflection of normal teenage mood swings’ and

‘Hiding her struggles from us’

were not ‘overly concerned’. The court heard how Molly had received emails from Pinterest with the headings ‘18 depression pins you might like’ and ‘new ideas for you in depression’.

Mr Sanders said the posts saved by Molly on Pinterest were ‘romanticis­ing self-harm’ and were something for people to ‘keep to themselves’. Mr Russell responded: ‘This is just a fraction of what Molly was seeing on a daily basis.’

The process on social media was one of ‘normalisat­ion’ in which users were encouraged to feel as though they could ‘join their club’, Mr Russell said. ‘It is a place of discouragi­ng getting help and encouragin­g further self-harm,’ he added. The inquest continues.

 ?? ?? Left, her father Ian, flanked by mother Janet and Molly’s sister, arrive at the inquest
Left, her father Ian, flanked by mother Janet and Molly’s sister, arrive at the inquest
 ?? ?? Tragedy: Molly Russell
Tragedy: Molly Russell

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