Molly’s father leaves London court.
- Lawyers battling social media companies got support
In a London courtroom last week, a META (Facebook) executive, who was sitting in the witness box, was confronted with an uncomfortable question. The lawyer asked if his company was responsible for the suicide of 14-year-old Mollie Russell.
Depressing and self-destructive videos, photographs and content were played on the screen in court. Molly had seen it all before taking her own life in November 2017. A post liked or saved on Instagram exactly matched the words of a letter Molly received. The coroner’s judge who heard the case on Friday ruled that Instagram and other social media platforms were involved in Molly’s death. This is probably the first case where Internet companies have been legally convicted of suicide.
In Britain, the position of coroner is similar to that of a judge. He has the power to determine the cause of a person’s death and investigate the matter. Coroner Andrew Walker says Molly Russell, who suffers from depression, has harmed herself by being exposed to the negative effects of online content.
A child psychiatrist called as an expert witness said the content was so disturbing and painful that he had poor sleep for several weeks. The Company will not be liable for any pecuniary or other sanction as a result of this decision. The trial was neither criminal nor civil. The coroner’s inquest to determine the cause of death was linked. Molly’s family said: “We had moved the case forward to get justice for Molly and to warn people of the dangers of youth suicides on social media.” The echo of the verdict begins to be heard outside the United Kingdom. The yard was crowded with television cameramen, photographers and reporters. The coroner’s egregious decision ends a chapter in the Russell family’s legal battle against some of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies. Following Mollie’s death, legislation was introduced in the UK to introduce new measures to protect children on social media companies in the UK. There is a fine provision for not doing so.
Lawyers fighting lawsuits accusing TikTok and Meta of child deaths in the United States cite the ruling as an example. During the investigation, thousands of images, videos and other social media content were exposed on Molly’s account.
This will provide a lot of information to researchers studying the effect of social media on mental health. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram owner Meta, have long complained about hiding information for privacy and ethical reasons.
Police collected 30,000 pages of content for investigation
Seeing Molly’s Instagram account, the father was convinced that social media played a role in his daughter’s death. He gave this information in a BBC interview in January 2019. The case made headlines in the UK. The family urged the coroner to investigate social media’s role in the death. After a year of effort, Molly’s social media data was recovered. London police removed 30,000 pages of content.
After a long fight, Meta agreed to donate 16,000 pages to Molly’s Instagram account. Six months before her death, Molly had liked or saved 1,200 posts on Instagram related to suicide, self-harm and depression.
© The New York Times
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