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Molly Russell inquest: Social media key to 14-year-old’s death

The father of 14-year-old Molly Russell has told an inquest he believes social media was a key factor in her death.

Ian Russell said safety measures, such as speed limits on roads, were accepted in the offline world but “are not put in place in sufficient quantity in the digital world”.

Molly, from Harrow in north-west London, died in 2017 after seeing content about suicide and self-harm.

The inquest also heard how Molly tried to ask for help from celebrities.

Mr Russell said his daughter had reached out for help on Twitter to personalities with thousands or even millions of followers, who would not even necessarily notice a tweet from someone like Molly.

He added: “She was calling out to an empty void.”

North London Coroner’s Court examined how Molly used an anonymous Twitter account to message influencers and showbusiness stars.

One, sent to US actress Lili Reinhart, which was read to the court, said: “I can’t take it any more. I need to reach out to someone, I just can’t take it.”

Mr Russell, who previously told the inquest he was shocked that “dark, graphic, harmful material” was readily available to be seen by children online, questioned how Molly knew “how to get into this state”.

Mr Russell said he found it “hard to believe that some of the most powerful global brands in the world” could not find a way to help prevent such content reaching vulnerable people.

Molly Russell’s father Ian Russell (centre), mother Janet Russell (right) and her sister (left) arrive at Barnet Coroner’s Court

When asked about his daughter accessing “harmless” content on social media platforms, such as posts about fashion and pop music, Mr Russell told the inquest that “digital technology can be brilliant”, but the difference between the two types of content “would be very much blurred” for his daughter.

He told the court that harmful and “normal” online content would have been “conflated” in his daughter’s mind, before he concluded his evidence by saying: “Children should not be on platforms that are not safe, that present a risk to their lives.”

Judson Hoffman, global head of community operations at the image-sharing and social media service Pinterest, said he was “not able to answer” how children could agree to potentially being exposed to content inappropriate for a child.

In the platform’s terms of service, displayed to the court, users were asked to report “bad stuff” if they saw it on the site. The terms of service, from November 2016, said users might be exposed to material that was “inappropriate to children”.

The Russell family’s barrister, Oliver Sanders KC, asked: “Bearing in mind it might be children who are opening the account… when a user opens an account they have to agree there may be content that’s inappropriate for a child. If the user is a child, how can they agree to that?”

“I’m sorry, I’m not able to answer that,” Mr Hoffman said.

Mr Hoffman said he deeply regretted that Molly Russell saw content relating to self-harm, suicide and depression on the platform.

The hearing was shown two streams of content the 14-year-old had seen, comparing the material she viewed earlier in her use of the platform and in the months closer to her death.

While the earlier stream of content included a wide variety of content, the latter focused on depression, self-harm and suicide.

Asked by Mr Sanders if he agreed that the type of content had changed, Mr Hoffman said: “I do and it’s important to note, and I deeply regret that she was able to access some of the content shown.”

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