Molly Russell: Instagram posts seen by teen were safe, Meta says

Molly RussellRussell family

Instagram posts about suicide and depression viewed by a 14-year-old girl before she took her own life “were safe”, a court has heard.

Molly Russell, from Harrow, engaged with thousands of such posts in the months before her death in 2017.

Her family claim the content encouraged suicide and self-harm.

Elizabeth Lagone, an executive at Meta, which owns Instagram, said she believed it was “safe for people to be able to express themselves online”.

She added the posts were “complex” and often a “cry for help”.

The inquest at North London Coroner’s Court was told out of the 16,300 posts Molly saved, shared or liked on Instagram in the six-months before her death, 2,100 were depression, self-harm or suicide-related.

Ms Lagone, the social media giant’s head of health and wellbeing, was shown a number of them.

The Russell family’s lawyer, Oliver Sanders KC, asked of each post shown to her whether she believed they promoted or encouraged suicide or self-harm.

‘Content nuanced and complicated’

She said she thought it “safe for people to be able to express themselves”, but conceded two of posts would have violated Instagram’s policies.

Instagram’s guidelines at the time said users were allowed to post content about suicide and self-harm to “facilitate the coming together to support” other users but not if it “encouraged or promoted” this.

Ms Lagone told the court she thought the content Molly saw was “nuanced and complicated”, adding that it was important to give people a voice if they were experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Elizabeth Lagone, Meta's head of health and well-being

PA Media

Asked if she agreed the material was “not safe for children”, Ms Lagone said: “I think it is safe for people to be able to express themselves”.

When pressed by coroner Andrew Walker to clarify whether she thought the posts were safe, she replied “Yes, it is safe.”

Ian Russell, Molly's father

Kirsty O’Connor / PA

Soon after the inquest began, Molly’s father Ian Russell said he had been shocked by the “dark, graphic, harmful material” available for children to view online.

Mr Russell told the inquest much of the content seemed to “normalise” self-harm and suicide.

On Thursday, Pinterest’s head of community operations, Judson Hoffman, apologised after admitting the platform was “not safe” when the 14-year-old used it.

The inquest, due to last up to two weeks, continues.

If you’ve been affected by self-harm or emotional distress, help and support is available via the BBC Action Line.

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