Father of 14-year-old girl who killed herself after watching self-harm videos online backs campaign to make social media giants hand over their data to mental health researchers
- Royal College of Psychiatrists’ demand was backed by the father of Molly Russell
- Schoolgirl killed herself in 2017 after watching self-harm videos on Instagram
- RCP report says anonymised data should be handed over to researchers to study
- Scientists want to start investigating the social media habits of young people
- For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123, visit a local branch or go to samaritans.org
Social media giants like Facebook and Instagram must hand over data so experts can analyse their impact on mental health, a major report warns.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ demand was backed by the father of Molly Russell, who blamed ‘pushy algorithms’ for his daughter’s death in 2017.
Fourteen-year-old Molly, from Harrow, north west London, killed herself after watching self-harm videos on Instagram.
Her death sparked fury about why she was fed material linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide on the site.
But scientists trying to investigate social media’s impact on mental health have been hampered by the firms’ unwillingness to reveal data about their users.
Tragic Molly Russell, 14, (pictured aged 11) of Harrow, north west London, was found dead in her bedroom in November 2017 after showing ‘no obvious signs’ of severe mental health issues
The schoolgirl took her own life after handing in her homework and returning to her family home
Her father Ian Russell said the algorithms used by Instagram enabled Molly to view more harmful content, contributing to her death. Pictured: Molly on holiday aged six (left) and aged 11
Molly aged four, holding a cuddly toy in this poignant photo released by her family. Her father has backed the report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists
Today’s report demands they give up this anonymised information so researchers can study the the online habits of young people.
Ian Russell, who authored the report’s foreword, said: ‘Two years ago Molly’s suicide smashed like a wrecking ball into my family’s life.
‘I am in no doubt the graphic self-harm content and suicide encouraging memes on Molly’s social media feeds helped kill her.
‘Without research using data from social media companies we will never know how content can lead our children and young people to self-harm or, in the most tragic cases, take their own lives.
‘The government must enact these calls from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.’
Mr Russell also detailed how his daughter accessed ‘bleak depressive material and suicide memes’ on Instagram.
Ian Russell said Molly’s suicide ‘smashed like a wrecking ball into his family’s life’
Pictured: One of the images that was shared on Instagram depicting people harming themselves
Schoolgirl, 14, who took own life after viewing self-harm images on Instagram
Molly Russell, 14, of Harrow, north west London, was found dead in her bedroom in November 2017 after showing ‘no obvious signs’ of severe mental health issues.
Her family later found she had been viewing material on social media linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide and her father accused Instagram of ‘helping to kill her.’
Ian Russell today said the algorithms used by Instagram enabled Molly to view more harmful content, possibly contributing to her death.
Molly was found dead just hours after handing in her homework and returning to her family home, where she had packed a bag to go to school the next day.
In a devastating note, she told her parents and two sisters: ‘I’m sorry. I did this because of me.’
An inquest into Molly’s death is expected later this year.
It was only after her death in 2017 that the teenager’s parents delved into her social media accounts and realised she was viewing distressing images.
One account she followed featured an image of a blindfolded girl, seemingly with bleeding eyes, hugging a teddy bear.
The caption read: ‘This world is so cruel, and I don’t wanna to see it any more.’
He described for the first time a note they found left by Molly, which said: ‘I’m nothing, I’m worthless, I’m numb, I’m lost, I’m weak, I’m gone. I’m sorry. I’ll see you in a little while. I love you all so much. Have a happy life. Stay strong xxx.’
The RCP’s report calls for an independent regulator with powers to establish a protocol for the sharing of data from social media companies with universities for research.
The data collected would be anonymous and include the nature of content viewed, as well as the amount of time users are spending on social media platforms.
Tech giants have also been urged to help fund studies that examines the consequences of social media use.
Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists and co-author of the report, said: ‘As a psychiatrist working on the frontline, I am seeing more and more children self-harming and attempting suicide as a result of their social media use and online discussions.
‘We will never understand the risks and benefits of social media use unless the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram share their data with researchers.
‘Their research will help shine a light on how young people are interacting with social media, not just how much time they spend online.
‘Self-regulation is not working. It is time for government to step-up and take decisive action to hold social media companies to account for escalating harmful content to vulnerable children and young people.’
Last year, a major Lancet study found that children who frequently use social media are 40 per cent more likely to experience mental health problems.
Social media firms giants have previously been in the dock over their failure to hand over data when it is in the public interest.
This includes the data of Molly Russell, which her family were not able to view. Facebook also faced fury over its refusal to hand data over to police investigating the murder of 13-year-old Lucy McHugh.
In a today’s report, Mr Russell describes the day his daughter died as he urges social media to do more to combat online harms.
He writes: ‘Finding Molly’s lifeless body at 7.20am left us not only immediately confronted by the onslaught of raw grief for losing someone so loved and adored but also, we were left dealing with many more devastating emotions.
‘The unimaginable shock and horror of bereavement by suicide was supplemented by the realisation that we had not known Molly had been so unwell and we’d therefore not been able to do anything to help her.
‘Suicide leaves in its wake an inevitable list of questions, most of which begin with a ‘why?’ In Molly’s case, this list was perhaps even more bewildering than others.
‘Our search for answers soon led us to her Social Media accounts, there we discovered what Molly had been viewing, ‘saving’ and ‘liking’.
‘Among the usual schoolfriends, pop groups and celebrities followed by fourteen-year-olds, we found bleak depressive material, graphic self-harm content and suicide encouraging memes.
‘These horrifying discoveries helped us fill in some of the missing pieces of the suicidal jigsaw puzzle Molly had set for us. I have no doubt that social media helped kill my daughter.’
For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123, visit a local branch or go to samaritans.org
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