Molly Russell accessed ‘ghetto of the online world’, father says

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA</span>
Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

The father of Molly Russell has described how his daughter accessed material from the “ghetto of the online world” before her death and warned that children were still in danger from content on social media platforms like Instagram.

Molly, from Harrow, north-west London, who was 14 when she killed herself in November 2017, had viewed online posts linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide before ending her life.

Ian Russell, 59, who has become a prominent campaigner for internet safety, also paid tribute to his “positive, happy, bright” daughter at the inquest into her death at north London coroner’s court on Wednesday.

Russell described how he discovered “shocking” social media content accessed by Molly before she killed herself, including on Instagram and Pinterest.

“It’s just the bleakest of worlds,” he told the court. “You are surrounded by images that show this bleak world. It’s a world I don’t recognise. 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, you can’t escape it.”

Russell said not enough had been done by social media platforms since Molly’s death to prevent harmful content appearing in front of young users.

“Sadly as recently as August this year I have seen similarly horrific content on platforms, particularly on Instagram,” he said. “Whatever steps have been taken it’s apparent to me that they are not effective enough and that young people are in danger.”

The court was shown examples of Instagram posts that Molly interacted with before her death, with the language used in those posts then reflected in notes that the teenager had left in her bedroom. The posts included references to self-harm, depression and suicide.

Russell was taken through a series of social media posts liked by Molly on Instagram prior to her death, which Oliver Sanders KC described as a “litany of self hate”. Russell’s witness statement also referred to Molly’s YouTube account, which he said contained a “high number of disturbing posts concerning anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide”.

The court was also shown Pinterest content linked to depression and self-hatred viewed by Molly, as well as posts that discouraged depressed people from speaking out.

Referring to the latter Pinterest posts, senior coroner Andrew Walker said: “This looks like trying to take control of the person who is suffering and deny them access to any help.”

Pinterest, an online pinboard, also sent an email to Molly offering “18 depression pins you might like” and “New ideas for you in Depression”.

Molly’s father had called for action to “prevent such a young life being wasted again” as the inquest into her death began, having been delayed by legal argument over access to evidence on Tuesday.

Reading out a pen portrait of his daughter to the court on Wednesday morning, Russell said everyone touched by his daughter’s story should remember there is always “help and hope”.

He said: “Just as Molly would have wanted, it is important to seek to learn whatever we can and then to take all necessary action to prevent such a young life being wasted again. Her life mattered and her place in the world will remain as important as it always was.”

Russell said his daughter 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”.

He added: “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.”

The court heard that Molly’s body was found in her bedroom by her mother, Janet, on the morning of 21 November 2017.

In a statement read out to the court on her behalf by Sanders, Molly’s mother said she called out for Molly but did not hear a response and began searching for her around the house.

The statement read: “I knew then something wasn’t right. I saw a load of her clothes on the floor [of her bedroom]. For some reason I thought Molly had run away. As I looked in her room, I found her … I had no doubt it was her.”

The court heard that Molly was an “avid fan” of Salice Rose, who has 15 million followers on Instagram and has talked regularly about suicide and depression. Molly also followed a Twitter account that “displays depressing quotes”, the court heard.

Molly had drafted an Instagram message wishing a happy birthday to the US rapper Phora, who has struggled with his mental health. The inquest heard the last social media app accessed by the teenager before she died was Instagram.

The inquest, which could last until the end of next week, continues.

  • In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.