The father of a 14-year-old girl who died by suicide has claimed the social media site Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, “helped kill my daughter”.
Molly Russell was found dead in her bedroom in November 2017 after showing “no obvious signs” of severe mental health issues. Her family later discovered she had been viewing material on social media linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide.
Molly’s father, Ian Russell, claimed the algorithms used by Instagram enabled Molly to view more harmful content, possibly contributing to her death.
“I have no doubt that Instagram helped kill my daughter. She had so much to offer and that’s gone,” Russell told the BBC.
In a statement on Wednesday he said the family is keen to raise awareness of “the harmful and disturbing content” that is freely available to young people online.
“Not only that, but the social media companies, through their algorithms, expose young people to more and more harmful content, just from one click on one post,” he said.
“In the same way that someone who has shown an interest in a particular sport may be shown more and more posts about that sport, the same can be true of topics such as self-harm or suicide.”
It’s important to remember suicide is a complex issue and can rarely be attributed to one single thing. The Samaritans also warn against over-simplifying the causes or ‘perceived triggers’ for it.
An inquest into Molly’s death is expected later this year.
An Instagram spokesperson said: “Our thoughts go out to Molly’s family and anyone dealing with the issues raised in this report.
“We do not allow content that promotes or glorifies eating disorders, self-harm or suicide and work hard to remove it.
“However, for many young people, discussing their mental health journey or connecting with others who have battled similar issues, is an important part of their recovery. This is why we don’t remove certain content and instead offer people looking at, or posting it, support when they might need it most.”
Prime minister Theresa May’s official spokesperson said: “This is a tragic case and our thoughts are with Molly’s family and friends.
“Social media platforms have a responsibility to regulate content on their platforms and the Prime Minister has been clear that tech companies must do more to step up and address these concerns.”
Jackie Doyle-Price, minister for suicide prevention, announced on Tuesday that the government aims to reduce suicides by at least 10% by 2020.
She said: “As a society we need to do everything we can to support vulnerable and at-risk people, as well as those in crisis, and give them the help they desperately need.”
Doyle-Price will be working with local councils, the NHS and the justice system to make sure suicide prevention plans “are put in place across public services”.
She also said she will be working “collaboratively” with social media and tech companies to achieve their goals.
Russell welcomed the announcement and called on social media companies to be “more responsible in relation to harmful content” and to provide users with more prominent information about getting help.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.