Molly Russell was depressed and rather than having the chance to get the help she needed, she was encouraged by what she saw on social media to explore her depression in secret. While she seemed happy, her father, Ian Russell, now believes that in private she was being assailed by graphic images of self-harm and suicide on the social media sites Instagram and Pinterest. She took her own life in 2017.
The 14-year-old retreated to a terrifying online world algorithmically tailored to encourage her darkest thoughts. These algorithms simply send emails and content based on the user’s interest and past searches. Molly’s death might have sparked a change in this area.
How Social Media Encourages Self Harm
Her father revealed that an email was sent to his daughter’s account a month after her death. The email came via Pinterest, a virtual scrapbook immensely popular with young women. It had been sending out automatic emails luring recipients towards images and expressions of self-harm.
Her family has established that the teenager logged into the photo-sharing app Instagram via her mobile phone on the night that she died.
Her father told The Sunday Times: “There’s no doubt that Instagram played a part in Molly’s death.”
It is so sad that she felt she had to deal with her depression by herself and end her life. Her mother shared that because she was such a caring soul it made it harder for her to let them know what she was going through. In the last note, she wrote, ‘I’m sorry this is all my fault. I’m the problem. You’ll be better off without me” #No
If she had not been exposed to material and suggestions alluring her to take a way out, she just might have survived.
According to the head of the social media platform, all graphic images of self-harm will be removed from Instagram. He promised that they would change their policy and not allow any graphic images of self-harm.
Going forward, any self-harm graphics will not show up in search and won’t be in hashtags; but some images might still remain.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock described the death of Molly Russell as “every parents’ modern nightmare”. The UK government is urging social media companies to take more responsibility for harmful online content which illustrates and promotes methods of suicide and self-harm.
What can parents do? Talk to your children as much as you can about activities on social media. As parents, regularly ask your child about what they are viewing online and how they are feeling, The algorithms are set up to give you more of what you view online; whether this can harm or not.
For more read How to Navigate Social Media with your Child.