An investigation into the death of British schoolgirl Molly Russell concluded that social media was a factor in her death, the BBC reported.
Before her death in November 2017, the 14-year-old girl viewed thousands of pieces of content about self-harm and suicide on online platforms including Instagram and Pinterest.
Coroner Andrew Walker, who came to a conclusion on the North London coroner’s court investigation into Russell’s death, said “the negative impact of online content” was a factor in her death and that such content “should not have been viewed by children.”
The tragedy has led to multiple high-level interventions by British lawmakers, and in 2019, Instagram boss Adam Mosseri asked to speak with then Health Minister Matt Hancock to promote suicide and self-harm. We discussed the platform’s handling of content. .
The government has also put child safety at the heart of a new content arbitration bill (aka Online Safety Act, submitted to Congress as a first draft in May 2021), claiming to put child safety first. Age-appropriate design codes are also available. Enforced in the UK last year – To protect minors from profiling and other online safety risks, platforms must enforce recommended account settings for minors.
In a further remark today, the coroner said: “The material Molly saw… would have negatively affected her mental health and contributed to her death in more than minimal way.”
“It would not be safe to leave suicide as a conclusion,” he added. “She died of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content.”
The BBC reports that the coroner will now write a “Future Death Prevention” report outlining his concerns.
He also said he will write letters to two social media companies that have been ordered to present evidence, as well as the government and Ofcom, which will assume a major role in regulating internet content under the online safety legislation.
Instagram and Pinterest
Executives at Instagram’s parent company Meta and Pinterest have both been ordered to testify at interrogations where material Russell saw on the platform was revealed.
The child psychologist who presented evidence for the investigation earlier this month said the content the girl used online was “very disturbing” according to previous BBC reports, and that it “will definitely affect her and make her more desperate” .
Molly’s father, Ian Russell, in his testimony, described it as “the bleakest world” he had seen through web records after her death. He also told the investigation that most of the “dark, explicit and harmful material” she had seen online appeared to “normalize” self-harm and suicide.
The girl’s social media use has also extended to having accounts on other services such as Twitter and YouTube.
Mehta’s agent, Elizabeth Lagone, who gave the evidence, said in a testimony earlier this week that the tech giant’s health and wellness policy lead was “safe” after the girl had seen posts on Instagram about suicide and depression before her death. explained. .
The BBC also said that Lagon thought it was “safe for people to express themselves” in the investigation. And the content the 14-year-old boy saw was “subtle and complex”.
Also presenting evidence for the investigation, Pinterest’s Judson Hoffman, head of global community operations for the photo-sharing platform, apologized for the content the girl saw, saying that Pinterest was not secure when used.
According to the investigation, the platform was told that before she died, the platform had emailed images to a high school girl with titles like “10 Depression Pins You’ll Like” and “Depression Recovery, Depressed Girls, and More Pins Trending on Pinterest”. It is created as content curation based on behavioral profiling of girls’ activities on the platform.
In remarks following the coroner’s conclusion today, Mehta said he would “consider carefully” when looking at his report.
Here is the meta’s statement:
We think with the Russell family and all those affected by this tragic death. We’ve done our best to make Instagram a positive experience for everyone, especially teenagers, and we will carefully consider the full report as it comes out by the coroner. We continue to work with the world’s leading independent experts to help ensure the changes we make provide the best possible care and support for teens.
Pinterest also sent us a statement:
Our thoughts are with the Russell family. We listened very carefully to everything the coroner and family said during the investigation. Pinterest is constantly working to improve its platform to be safe for everyone and to ensure that coroner reports are carefully considered. Over the past few years, we have continued to tighten our policies on self-harm content, provide compassionate support channels to those in need, and have invested heavily in building new technologies that automatically identify and act on self-harm content. The Mollys story reinforces our commitment to creating a safe and positive space for Pinners.
This summer’s replacement of the UK prime minister and (another) ministerial reshuffle has resulted in a pause in parliamentary passage of the online safety legislation and a partial rethinking of elements of the legislation dealing with ‘legitimate but harmful’ content. But today’s investigation verdict is likely to put more pressure on the government to pass the bill, as the coroner’s “painful” material related to Russell’s death falls precisely in that gray area.
Digital Secretary of State Michelle Donelan stressed earlier this month that while the government wants to change legislation on ‘legal but harmful’ content, the planned restrictions on children will remain unchanged. Online safety remains a key priority for the new Prime Minister Liz Truss government.
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