The Daily Telegraph
Teenager browsed suicide material online
Coroner’s court seeks to establish if 14-year-old was ‘overwhelmed’ by the online content she viewed
Molly Russell used her phone to browse Instagram for depression-related images just before she took her own life, an inquest was told yesterday. The 14-year-old from Harrow, north London, died in 2017 after struggling with depression and anxiety while viewing self-harm and suicide material on social media sites. Ian Russell, Molly’s father, has previously accused Instagram – which is owned by Meta, formerly known as Facebook – of “helping to kill” his daughter.
MOLLY RUSSELL used her phone to browse Instagram for depression-related images just before she took her own life, an inquest was told yesterday.
The 14-year-old from Harrow, north London, died in 2017 after spending months struggling with depression and anxiety while viewing self-harm and suicide material on social media sites, chiefly Instagram and Pinterest.
Ian Russell, Molly’s father, has previously accused Instagram – owned by Meta, formerly known as Facebook – of “helping to kill” his daughter just six days before her 15th birthday.
After five years of delays, an inquest into her death at North London Coroner’s Court began hearing evidence yesterday as it seeks to establish if Molly was “overwhelmed” by the content she viewed.
Mr Russell, 59, told the inquest he had started combing through his daughter’s social media accounts in a desperate attempt to understand what had driven her to suicide.
He would go on to uncover a “horrifying” cache of images she had saved, including self-harm injuries and quotes reinforcing feelings of worthlessness or justifying suicide.
Molly, he subsequently discovered, was not asked to provide her date of birth when she signed up to Instagram at the age of 12.
Police analysis of her devices found she had last used her iphone to access Instagram at 12.45am on Nov 21 2017.
Two minutes earlier, at 12.43am, she had saved an image on Instagram which showed the words: “The worst thing depression did to me was take my intelligence.
“Feeling yourself getting dumber and dumber is absolutely painful.”
Oliver Sanders KC, representing the Russell family, told of what happened after Molly saw the image: “Within an hour, or maybe two hours, she was dead.”
Molly was found dead in her bedroom by her mother at around 7am, the inquest was told.
The extent of her personal torment had not been known to her parents. They had only noticed she had not “been herself” for most of that year, with her father telling police she had become “quiet and withdrawn”.
Mr Russell told the hearing that his journey into the depths of Molly’s online world had taken such a toll on his own mental health he had to stop looking at the posts.
“It’s just the bleakest of worlds, you are surrounded by images that deal with this bleak, shocking, horrifying world,” he said.
“It’s a ghetto of the online world that, once you fall into it, the algorithm means you cannot escape.”
The more Molly interacted with social media posts that “normalised, glamorised and even glorified dangerous behaviours”, the more she would be automatically fed such posts through the algorithm of the platforms, Mr Russell told the hearing.
He warned that, despite the significant publicity surrounding Molly’s death, children were still in danger of being exposed to the same graphic material on social media.
Mr Russell told the court: “Sadly, as recently as August of this year, I have seen some similarly horrific content on platforms and particularly Instagram so whatever steps have been taken are not effective enough and people are still in danger.”
As well as Instagram, Molly was an avid user of the image-sharing website Pinterest, which sent her “jaunty” emails packed with more depression and suicide content, according to Mr Sanders. They continued to arrive in her inbox even after she died. One email, received more than a fortnight after Molly’s death on Dec 7 2017, was headed: “New ideas for you in ‘Depression’”.
Underneath, it continued: “We found some [images] we think might be right up your alley.”
There then followed more than a dozen pictures featuring bleak quotes and images, including one that said: “I’m not afraid of the dark, I’m more afraid of not finding the light once again.”
‘Whatever steps have been taken are not effective enough’
notes found in Molly’s bedroom echoed the type of language used in the social media posts, the inquest was told.
Mr Sanders said: “They were romanticising the idea of self-harm, romanticising the idea of suicide – this is something that is for people who are deep, that are different.”
An analysis of Molly’s mobile phone by police also found that she was an “avid fan” of an American Youtube star called Salice Rose who has spoken about suicide and depression.
“It is also maybe relevant that Miss Russell died either on the birthday of Salice Rose or just after,” said a report by Michael Walker, the specialist investigator who carried out the analysis.
The family were said to “strongly believe that Molly’s act that night must have been impulsive” as she had behaved normally that evening and it would have been “against her nature” to have planned her suicide when her sister’s 21st birthday was the next day.
At the outset of the inquest, Mr Russell provided a “pen portrait” of Molly which included tributes her friends had paid at her funeral.
He said: “For those who knew Molly. Never forget the adorable young woman Molly was. Never forget her caring nature. Never forget how great a friend Molly was to so many.”
The inquest continues.