By Jonathan Reed
Video supplied by This Morning/ITV©
“I have no doubt Instagram helped kill my daughter.”
These are the anguished words of Ian Russell, who devastatingly found his 14-year-old daughter Molly dead in her room in 2017. Her death was suicide, and by her body was a note, simplistic in its content, yet complex in its context. “I’m sorry. I did this because of me,” it read.
In a world where violence and the art of controversy has pushed the boundaries of the public’s desensitised attitudes, this horrifying and heart-breaking story has brought me back down to Earth. There is something truly unnatural about a teenage girl, or boy willingly ending their lives. Such vibrance, enthusiasm and promise, lost in an eternity of grief and pain. And for the parents, as a consolation, they are bequeathed a note and some not even that, they are forced to endure day after day, simply asking why?
The human condition is a strange place, an enigma which no amount of research has ever really even begun to understand. What causes us to feel anger, fear or joy? What makes a seemingly ordinary person perform something extraordinary? Nobody really knows, and in most cases, we’re fine with that vague explanation. But when a 14-year-old girl takes her own precious miracle of a life, a vague elucidation doesn’t mirror the stark and visceral reality of loss. An answer is needed, now more than ever.
Devastatingly, Ian’s story isn’t one which stands alone. 2018 saw an astronomical increase in teenage suicides. Statistics revealed that five-in-one-thousand people between the ages of 14 to 19 will take their own life. Five-in-one-thousand! Molly is one of those. But it would be unfair to simply reduce this bright young girl into a statistic. Instead, as a society, we must understand the cause and stamp it out immediately. And sadly, the cause is so easily accessible and overtly dominating across our modern communities’ social constructs, that we all are affected in some way by it – social media.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – they are names we all know, platforms we all use mostly without thought and concern. Like most things today we look at these networks at a glance, refusing to delve beneath the blue-screened skin. But when we do, it becomes evidently clear why people like Molly quickly begin to feel devoid of any hope.
In Molly’s case, the content so easily accessible were accounts dedicated to self-harming. Yes, self-harming on a social media platform. Amongst the shock of how incredibly easy accounts like these are to find, what is deeply disturbing is why they can exist in the first place! What element of purposely inflicting pain on yourself is ‘social’? How can this be classed as ‘media’?
Ian claims that without a doubt these accounts affected his daughter’s mental health. “We were unaware she was following these accounts and it must have had a profoundly detrimental effect to her mental health and contributed to her death." He said.
That statement, in of itself, is beyond devastating and what does it say about our culture today, when accounts on social media and their warped content can result in a 14-year-old taking their own life. It screams that the Corporations, those who design and implement these social platforms, are failing.
Instagram, the social media platform Molly was using when browsing this vile content stated that “nothing is more important to us than the safety of the people in our community. We are undertaking a full review of our enforcement policies and technologies around self-harm, suicide and eating disorders.” They then went on to declare that the site does not allow content promoting self-harm to be featured. If so, then why did a father suffer the trauma of finding his daughter deceased in her bedroom?
Responses like this are the problem with these Companies. There is a lack of responsibility, or care and protection for young people. The online world is a brilliant thing, so is social media. It can bring people together, it can fire out breaking news in ‘real-time’. But it can also harm and destroy. It can force people to blur the lines between fantasy and reality. It sets a precedent on what your life should be and if it isn’t, well then, you’ve failed.
Social media can be all consuming. We all are guilty of spending far too long looking at our mobile phone screens without acknowledging the effect it is having. And the younger you are, the greater the impact. Ian Russell said that Molly showed no signs of destress or pressure. She seemed like a normal teenager; happy, joyful and excited for the future. How gutting that all of that should end by her own hand.
Molly Russell was a 14-year-old girl, a daughter who on the outside seemed fine. Inwardly she was in the midst of a battle, one that took control in the form of a socially online world. Catastrophically, for Ian and his family, they most likely will never know why their Molly decided to take her own life. But all of us have at one point stood on that very same path. It is paved with self-doubt, inadequacies, fear, failure and constant questioning, and it heads to nowhere other than a cliff edge, one with which far too many youngsters have desperately thrown themselves from.
It is a tree we can all sit under, the ever-present feeling of self-questioning. Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will people like me? Is this post cool enough? How many ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ do I have today? Each one creates branch after branch, forcing our young people to sit in the shade for far too long. Now, it’s time for these social media Companies to help them begin the climb. Raising themselves above each and every branching question, pushing through until they see the sunlight and they can breathe again knowing they won’t be judged for doing so.
They owe it to them.
They owe it to Ian Russell and his family.
They owe it to their Molly.