Online safety must not be an afterthought: Prince William’s plea following death of Molly Russell

1 October 2022, 09:19 | Updated: 4 November 2022, 09:59

Molly Russell, 14, took her own life after viewing harmful content online. Her father Ian, right, has called for changes to online safety
Molly Russell, 14, took her own life after viewing harmful content online. Her father Ian, right, has called for changes to online safety. Picture: Picture: Alamy/PA

By Asher McShane

The Prince of Wales has issued a plea for better safety for children online after a coroner ruled tragic Molly Russell, 14, took her own life while suffering depression from the negative effects of viewing online content.

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Prince Williams said "online safety for our children and young people needs to be a pre-requisite, not an afterthought."

There have been calls for social media giants to be ‘held to account’ after the tragic death of schoolgirl Molly, who killed herself after viewing posts about ‘depression, self-harm and suicide’.

The 14-year-old, from Harrow, north-west London, is known to have viewed the ‘harmful’ content before ending her life in November 2017, prompting her family to campaign for better internet safety.

Speaking after the inquest, her father said he hopes the coroner's conclusions will be an "important step in bringing about much-needed change".

The Prince of Wales tweeted: "No parent should ever have to endure what Ian Russell and his family have been through."

"They have been so incredibly brave. Online safety for our children and young people needs to be a prerequisite, not an afterthought."

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan has said the Government will use the Online Safety Bill and the "full force of the law" to hold social media companies to account.

"The details of the events which led to Molly's death are undeniably heartbreaking," she said.

"The inquest has shown the horrific failure of social media platforms to put the welfare of children first.

"We owe it to Molly's family to do everything in our power to stop this happening to others.

"Our Online Safety Bill is the answer and through it we will use the full force of the law to make social media firms protect young people from horrendous pro-suicide material."

Molly Russell who killed herself after viewing harmful social media posts
Molly Russell who killed herself after viewing harmful social media posts. Picture: Russell Family
Molly Russell
Molly Russell. Picture: Russell family

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During the inquest, Ian Russell told the hearing seeing the material the teenager accessed from the "ghetto of the online world" still affects him.

He also told the inquest the material his daughter was exposed to on the internet is "hideous", saying he was "definitely shocked how... readily available" it was on a public platform for people over the age of 13.

Speaking outside North London Coroner's Court after coroner Andrew Walker's conclusions, Mr Russell said: "In the last week, we've heard much about one tragic story - Molly's story.

"Sadly, there are too many others similarly affected right now.

"At this point I just want to say however dark it seems, there is always hope.

"And if you're struggling, please speak to someone you trust or one of the many wonderful support organisations rather than engage with online content that may be harmful.

"Please do what you can to live long and stay strong.

"I'll give a fuller statement at the church hall when I've had time to collect my thoughts, and I will be joined by others who would like to say more about online safety.

"For now, thank for your support and reporting this story so sensitively. I hope this will be an important step in bringing about change."

Molly's dad Ian Russell speaking after the hearing
Molly's dad Ian Russell speaking after the hearing. Picture: Alamy

Currently, most social media and search engine platforms that operate in the UK are not subject to any large-scale regulations specifically concerning user safety beyond a handful of laws that refer to the sending of threatening or indecent electronic communications.

Instead, these platforms are relied upon to 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.

As a result, large amounts of harmful content can be found on social media today as platforms 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.

During the inquest, evidence given by executives from both Meta and Pinterest highlighted these issues.

Pinterest executive Judson Hoffman admitted the platform was "not safe" when Molly accessed it in 2017 because it did not have in place the technology it has now.

During the inquest, coroner Andrew Walker said the opportunity to make social media safe must not "slip away", as he voiced concerns about the platforms.

In a statement following the conclusion of the inquest into the death of Molly Russell, a spokeswoman for Meta said: "Our thoughts are with the Russell family and everyone who has been affected by this tragic death.

"We're committed to ensuring that Instagram is a positive experience for everyone, particularly teenagers, and we will carefully consider the coroner's full report when he provides it.

"We'll continue our work with the world's leading independent experts to help ensure that the changes we make offer the best possible protection and support for teens."

Speaking outside North London Coroner's Court after the coroner's conclusion, Molly's father Ian Russell said: "In the last week we've heard much about one tragic story - Molly's story.

"Sadly, there are too many others similarly affected right now. At this point I just want to say however dark it seems, there is always hope, and if you're struggling please speak to someone you trust or one of the many wonderful support organisations, rather than engage with online content that may be harmful.

"Please do what you can to live long and stay strong. I'll give a fuller statement at the church hall when I've had time to collect my thoughts and I will be joined by others who would like to say more about online safety.

"For now, thanks for your support and reporting this story so sensitively. I hope this will be an important step in bringing about change."

If you need any support call the Samaritans on 116 123.

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