Molly Russell social media addiction, suicide

Occurred: November 2017

UK-based teenager Molly Russell committed suicide after viewing highly harmful contenton a number of prominent social media platforms, to which she had become addicted.

A coroner concluded (pdf) that the death of 14 year-old Molly Russell had been contributed to by Instagram and Pinterest in 'more than a meaningful way'. 'She died', the coroner ruled, 'from an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content.'

The inquest into Russell's death heard that, in the six months before her demise, Russell had viewed over 16,000 pieces of content on Instagram and interacted with over 2,100 Instagram posts related to suicide, self-harm, or depression. She also viewed hundreds of similar images on Pinterest. 

Instagram owner Meta and Pinterest acknowledged unsafe content had been on their platforms and apologised. The inquest was delayed multiple times, in part due to content redaction requests by Meta.

The incident raised concerns about the nature and extent of unsafe material on leading social media platforms, the actual and potential psychological and physiological impacts of this material on teenage girls and others, and the apparent unwillingness or inability of Meta and other owners to keep their platforms safe.

Operator: Meta/Instagram; Pinterest
Developer: Meta/Instagram; Pinterest

Country: UK

Sector: Media/entertainment/sports/arts

Purpose: Recommend content

Technology: Recommendation algorithm; Content moderation system
Issue: Safety

Transparency: Governance; Black box; Marketing; Legal

Legal, regulatory 👩🏼‍⚖️