High school principal Molly Russell told an inquest into the teenager’s death that it was “almost impossible” to track the risks social media posed to students.
North London The coroner’s court heard there was “complete and horrific shock” at Molly’s school after the 14-year-old took her own life in November 2017. Molly, from Harrow, north-west London, took her own life after viewing a large amount of online content related to suicide, depression, self-harm and anxiety.
Sue Maguire, headteacher of Hatch End High School in Garrow, was asked how difficult it was for the school to stay aware of dangerous content on social media.
She said: “There’s a level where I want to say it’s almost impossible to monitor social media, but we have to try and we have to respond to information as we receive it.”
Describing the school’s “shock” at Molly’s death, Maguire added that teachers had been warning pupils about the “dangers of social media for a long time”.
She said: “Our experience with young people shows that social media is playing a huge role in their lives and it’s causing no end of problems. But we do not express the position that they should not use it. But it creates challenges for schools that we simply didn’t have 10-15 years ago.”
Oliver Sanders KC, representing the Russell family, asked Maguire if the school was aware of suicide and self-harm content being made available to students on sites such as Instagram.
Maguire said: “At the time we were shocked when we saw it. But to say that we were completely shocked would be wrong, because we have long warned young people about the dangers of social networks.”
Deputy headteacher Rebecca Cozens, who is also head of safeguarding at the school, told the inquest that when the youngsters went down the social media “rabbit hole” it was “deep”.
When asked by Sanders if there was any awareness of the type of material Molly was dealing with, Cozens said, “I don’t think at the time the awareness of the depth of it and how quickly it would snowball … and the intensity then , if you go down the rabbit hole, it’s deep.”
On Monday, the head of Meta, the owner of Instagram, apologized after confessing that Molly has viewed content that violates the platform’s content guidelines. Elizabeth Lagon, head of health and wellbeing policy at Meta, said: “We’re sorry that Molly has seen content that breaches our policies and we don’t want that on the platform.”
Last week, the head of Pinterest, another platform that Molly was heavily involved with before her death, said that the site is not safe when a teenager used it.
Senior Coroner Andrew Walker told the Russell family he would issue his findings by the end of the week.
In the UK, the young suicide charity Papyrus can be contacted on 0800 068 4141 or email email@example.com, and in the UK and Ireland the Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, email firstname.lastname@example.org or jo @samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 800-273-8255 or live chat for support. You can also text HOME to 741741 to reach a crisis line counselor. In Australia, the Lifeline crisis line is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org