The Negative Effects of Online Content Cybertraps 138

News Item: Molly Russell, a 14-year-old girl living in London, committed suicide in November 2017. Earlier today (Sept. 30, 2022), a senior coroner ruled that her death was the result of depression and “the negative effects of online content.”

  • Inquest

  • A two-week inquest into the cause of Russell’s death focused on her use of Instagram and Pinterest

  • Process was very slow due to lengthy response time by tech giants

  • Evidence showed that she viewed a variety of graphic content in the months before her death

  • “Molly viewed more than 16,000 pieces of content on Instagram in the final six months of her life, of which 2,100 were related to suicide, self-harm and depression. The inquest also heard how she had compiled a digital pinboard on Pinterest with 469 images related to similar subjects.”

  • “Algorithms, which curate a user’s online experience, recommended 34 Instagram accounts to Molly that were either “sad or depressive related”, while Pinterest sent a message to Molly’s email address recommending “10 depression pins you might like”.”

  • The coroner found that some of the sites she viewed were “not safe” because they allowed her to view content inappropriate for a 14-year-old

  • Ian Russell, Molly’s father, 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.”
    • “One message, 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.”
  • “It is likely that the above material viewed by Molly, already suffering with a depressive illness and vulnerable due to her age, affected her in a negative way and contributed to her death in a more than minimal way,” the coroner said.

  • “Elizabeth Lagone, the head of health and wellbeing policy at Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, admitted Molly had viewed posts that violated its content policies and Lagone apologised.”

  • “A senior Pinterest executive also apologised for the platform showing inappropriate content and acknowledged that the platform was not safe at the time Molly was on it.”

  • An Enormous Problem

  • Research in the UK showed 45% of children aged 8–17 have seen harmful content, including self-harm and suicide, pornography, sexualised and violent imagery, anonymous trolling, and content featuring images of diet restriction.

  • According to the report, “[C]hildren rarely sought out this content. “It is promoted and offered up to them by highly complex recommendation algorithms, which are designed to capture and retain their attention. When harmful content is reported to platforms, children tell me that little is done in response.”

  • Platforms self-regulate, “using a mixture of human moderators and artificial intelligence to find and take down illegal or harmful material proactively or when users report it to them.”

  • “[P]latforms struggle with moderating the sheer scale of content being posted and the balancing act of allowing users to express themselves while trying to keep their online spaces safe.”

  • Activism and Governmental Response

  • Russell’s parents have become outspoken advocates for greater regulation of social media

  • The family has set up the Molly Rose Foundation, which is dedicated to connecting under–25s with mental health services

  • The UK is drafting an online safety bill, which will place a “duty of care on tech companies to shield children from harmful content and systems.”

  • Tech companies must do a professional assessment of how their platforms may harm children and what they can do to mitigate the risks.

  • “Ofcom, the communications watchdog, will vet those proposals and monitor the companies’ adherence to them. Breaches of the bill can be met with fines of up £18m or 10% of a company’s worldwide revenue. Instagram’s owner, Meta, recorded a turnover of $118bn (£106bn) last year.”

  • Legal Issues

  • The UK does not have a First Amendment, so greater latitude in terms of regulating online content

  • The First Amendment in the United States guarantees freedom of speech, making regulation much more difficult

  • In addition, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act offers legal protection to online service providers who distribute “user-generated content”

  • One possible avenue is to focus on the regulation of algorithms as a “product,” and then apply consumer safety regulations

  • Suicide Prevention

  • In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1–800–273–8255.

  • In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123, or email or

  • In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14.

  • Other international helplines can be found at

  • Resources

– #2022–09–30 Molly Russell: Harrow schoolgirl died as a result of ‘self harm’, inquest finds “–25145910” – #2022–09–30 Molly Russell: how family are helping shift narrative on online safety “” – #2022–09–30 Molly Russell died while suffering from effects of online content, coroner says “” – #2022–09–30 ‘Molly turned to celebrities for help not knowing there was little chance of reply’: Coroner’s landmark ruling that social media posts glamourising suicide DID contribute to 14-year-old’s death from self-harm – as her father makes plea for change “–11266467/Coroner-rules-social-media-posts-viewed-Molly-Russell–14-not-safe.html” – #2022–09–30 Damming verdict on social media: Coroner rules schoolgirl Molly Russell killed herself after viewing harmful posts “” – #2022–09–30 Molly Russell inquest – coroner’s conclusion in full “–111821661.html ” – #2022–09–29 Molly Russell inquest must lead to action on internet dangers, says coroner “” – #2022–09–29 Almost half of children in England have seen harmful content online – survey “” – #2022–09–29 Digital childhoods: a survey of children and parents “” – #2022–09–27 Psychiatrist ‘did not sleep well’ after viewing content seen by Molly Russell “–112519535.html” – #2022–09–23 Molly Russell inquest: Instagram clips seen by teen ‘most distressing’ “–62998484” – #2022–09–22 Molly Russell inquest: Pinterest executive admits site was not safe “–62991510” – #2022–03–23 TechScape: Could this be the end of trolls and cyberflashers? “” – #2022–03–16 Molly Russell inquest: family frustrated by wait for Instagram data “” – #2021–12–06 Molly Russell coroner challenges social media firms to help make internet safer “”

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