As the inquest into Molly Russell’s death concludes today, the Children’s Commissioner offers her thoughts on the coroner’s verdict. Molly was 14 when she took her own life in 2017, after viewing thousands of posts depicting graphic self-harm injuries and suicide on platforms including Instagram and Pinterest. Today, Coroner Andrew Walker ruled that online material viewed by Molly “was not safe” and “shouldn’t have been available for a child to see”.
First of all, I would like to pay tribute to the tireless work of the Molly Rose Foundation, my thoughts are with Molly’s family today. I cannot imagine the strength that it took for Molly’s family to listen to the evidence at the inquest this week.
It has been incredibly tough, for all of us following the case, to hear about the escalating volume of graphic content which Molly viewed before taking her own life. As well as to reflect on the wider risks posed to children online, particularly the most vulnerable. I truly believe that the public discourse on internet safety would not be where it is without the determined work of Molly’s family.
The inquest found that in the six months before her death, Molly viewed and interacted with tens of thousands of posts containing graphic depictions of self-harm injuries and suicide. The platforms’ algorithms, which are designed to maximise users’ attention and engagement, recommended an increasing volume of harrowing content to Molly.
As Children’s Commissioner, I have been clear that tech companies are not doing enough to protect children online. This must change. Harmful content is still regularly accessible to children; this content is amplified through algorithms which prioritise company profits over children’s safety; and, in the absence of effective age assurance, children are still treated like adults online.
It is my priority to see the Online Safety Bill on the statute books, as a matter of urgency. Alongside this, tech firms need to be held fully accountable for failures to protect children. I will continue to shed light on these issues, by listening closely to children, parents, families, and Government. I will also press industry to make the online world safe for children, ahead of regulation, and place child welfare over profit. There is no excuse for delay.