Molly Russell was a typical teenage girl. She liked Harry Potter and horse-riding. She was juggling homework, starring in an upcoming school play, and keeping up friendships, all with the support of her loving family in northwest London.
But in November 2017, Molly took her own life at the age of 14.
An inquest revealed Molly engaged with a huge number of posts on Instagram related to depression, self-harm or suicide in the months before her death.
The coroner’s findings concluded that viewing material on social media “contributed to her death in a more than minimal way”, after suffering from depression and “the negative effects of online content”.
Sky News has found that at least one piece of content identical to that saved by Molly prior to her death, and which glorifies suicide, remained on Instagram this week.
The post was found by searching a term related to a method of suicide – a term Instagram promotes as part of its suggested searches feature and which is available to all users over the age of 13.
Warning: Readers may find this story distressing.
A digital trail
The inquest examined Molly’s social media activity in the six months prior to her death.
Sky News has chosen not to show the posts Molly engaged with, given some of their harmful content.
Among the 2,100 images related to depression or suicide Molly saved or liked on Instagram, the most benign posts show images, phrases, and poetry relating to feeling sad and depressed.
The most disconcerting ones show graphic images of self-harm and others which glorify suicide.
Many of the posts refer to worries around a lack of confidence, body image, and failing to meet family expectations – anxieties likely to particularly resonate with teenagers.
They reveal a picture of a young woman struggling with severe depression, suffering in silence while appearing outwardly happy.
They raise a crucial question: whether Molly’s online activity was a reflection of her state of mind, or if the content she was viewing and the algorithms that promoted it were more directly responsible for her distress.
Molly’s timeline – including a tweet to JK Rowling
The exact timeline of when and how Molly began engaging with this material is unknown.
Only six months of data from before her death in 2017 was available from Instagram, as information from before this time is no longer held on its servers.
Molly appears to have been engaging with suicide-related posts throughout this period. Instagram also could not provide information on all content Molly viewed or searched for, only those posts she interacted with, meaning she likely came across far more material than revealed by the inquest.
Instagram was not the only site through which Molly accessed harmful content. Pinterest, another image sharing social platform, sent emails to Molly highlighting posts under the topic of “depression” and “sad depression quotes”.
It was promoting the type of content she had been viewing on her account, an example of how algorithms used by social media companies can run the risk of pushing extreme content on to users as they seek more engagement.
A Pinterest executive gave evidence to the inquiry and admitted that at the time Molly was using the service, it was “not safe”.
Molly also set up a Twitter account, separate to another one that her family were aware of, which she used to follow celebrities who had spoken out about their problems with depression. Tragically, it was through this anonymous account that Molly made some of the few public admissions of her own struggles.
She told JK Rowling, who with almost 14 million followers receives large numbers of mentions: “My mind has been full of suicidal thoughts for a while but reading Harry Potter and the world you created is my escape.”
The debate over freedom of expression
It was suggested during the inquest that some online content related to depression, self-harm, or suicide could have some positive effects.
A representative for Meta, Instagram’s parent company, told the inquiry online spaces that touch upon this area may allow those suffering to express themselves and build a community of people experiencing similar struggles.
It is possible Molly found some comfort in following celebrities on Twitter who had been open about their own difficulties and had overcome them.
But Molly’s father told the inquiry he believes, in general, the content his daughter viewed online “normalised” the issue of suicide. He felt its unrelenting bleakness would likely worsen the mental health of anyone looking at it.
The differing views reflect a genuine debate around the extent someone should have the freedom to post about their troubles and those of others online, against the risk this activity could encourage some to harm themselves.
But separate to this issue, details of Molly’s online activity reveal she was still able to engage with harmful posts on Instagram and Pinterest despite the fact they violated the companies’ policies.
The debate around what is considered harmful becomes redundant if content that violates social media companies’ rules cannot be accurately identified and removed.
This was a worry raised by Frances Haugen, a former Meta employee, in her evidence to a committee of MPs considering the draft Online Safety Bill in 2021, which is still proceeding through parliament.
She told the committee that Facebook, another Meta company, was only able to identify 3-5% of misinformation and that Instagram was the most dangerous social media platform due to its focus on body image and social comparison.
“Facebook’s own reports say that it is not just that Instagram is dangerous for teenagers; it is actually more dangerous than other forms of social media.” she warned.
‘Remember who Molly really was’
Some progress has been made in improving automated systems that pick up dangerous content.
Elizabeth Lagone, Meta’s representative at the inquiry, said online harm was an “evolving” area. Instagram does, for example, point users towards a help page if they search some phrases relating to emotional distress. Some other search terms are blocked completely.
However, Sky News found one search term relating to suicide, which is blocked by Instagram, could be accessed simply by typing in part of the term and selecting from the recommended search list that appears.
Worryingly, it means people searching grammatically similar phrases, with no connection to suicide, could be directed towards harmful content.
Using this search, one poem Molly saved to her account shortly before her death, and which glorifies suicide, appeared in the search results.
Instagram has taken down this post and the recommended search term after being alerted by Sky News. It is an example of the type of harmful content that still exists on social media and the dark corner of the internet Molly inhabited before her death.
Because of this, Molly’s family made clear at the inquiry that the digital trail she left behind, and who she really was, shouldn’t be confused.
“We, her family, think it is essential to remember who Molly really was, so we can each hold a picture in our minds of a caring individual, full of love and bubbling with excitement for what should have lay ahead in her life.”
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Woman sets challenge to give Christmas gifts that don’t cost a penny – and here are her top tips
This year, Jane Hawkes has set herself a challenge – a totally free Christmas.
Not content with just getting a good Black Friday deal, the consumer champion, blogger and competition aficionado will be giving gifts this year that haven’t cost her a penny.
“Why pay for Christmas when you can win it?” she said.
From Minecraft toys to mini Gucci perfumes, there are a whole host of freebies on offer for those willing to look.
“I could end up with a draw full of tat, or I could end up with a draw full of lovely little goodies I can distribute over Christmas,” she told Sky News.
Websites, such as SuperLucky.me and The Latest Free Stuff do regular round-ups of available competitions, with most only taking a few clicks to enter. Setting up Google autofill makes the process even quicker. (As always, be careful who you give your details to – never give anyone your bank details, or send money online, regardless of what the deal says.)
Jane, who blogs about her experiences on Lady Janey, spends about an hour a day online looking for freebies and suggests setting up a secondary email if you don’t want to overload your inbox with spam.
Free champagne, brewery tours, chocolates and flowers are just some of the items she has won in the past.
This Christmas she has already won a free Smeg kettle, £30 in Amazon vouchers, perfume samples and a beer gift set that she plans to give away.
Her latest trick is answering surveys about TV shows and radio she has listened to in exchange for entering prize draws.
Her advice to those hoping to follow in her footsteps was to make a list (and check it twice), so you can be sure you are only entering competitions for relevant prizes.
“You want to make sure you are using your time effectively, just like you would use your funds effectively,” she said.
Another way to help with the cost this Christmas, she said, was to skill share with friends. She did some work on a friend’s website, and in exchange, the friend gave her some fudge and brownie bombs her small business makes.
She also advises consumers to be picky this year – if something’s not up to scratch, then politely complain, even if it is something as small as a button missing from a shirt.
“I have exacting standards and I am very honest,” she said. “I think we l live in a world of mediocrity when it comes to customer service and we need to assert our rights a bit more.”
This tactic scored her three spa days in Rome and two hampers of wine, chocolates, biscuits and posh popcorn – so perhaps it is advice worth heeding.
Family of Yusuf Mahmud Nazir, 5, who died after he was sent home from hospital not satisfied with investigation
The grieving family of a five-year-old boy who died after being sent home from a hospital have said they are not satisfied with an investigation which will look into how he was treated.
Hospital bosses in South Yorkshire have said the inquiry will be led by independent investigators outside of the region but the family wants it to be “completely external” from the NHS.
Zaheer Ahmed, the uncle of Yusuf Mahmud Nazir, told Sky News he wants a “full independent investigation out of the NHS”.
Mr Ahmed said the health service “want to do an external investigation by someone from the NHS outside of the district”. He added: “We are still in the talks and we are requesting that it is completely external.”
Mr Ahmed previously told Sky News that Yusuf would still be alive if the family had been listened to.
He said he “begged and begged” for his nephew to be admitted to Rotherham General Hospital due to a throat infection but was told “there are no beds and not enough doctors”.
After the boy was examined there on Monday 14 November, he was sent home, even though the doctor treating his nephew said “it was the worst case of tonsillitis he had ever seen”, according to Mr Ahmed.
At home, his condition deteriorated and he was later taken by ambulance to Sheffield Children’s Hospital but it was too late to save the young boy’s life.
The infection had spread to his lungs and caused multiple organ failure resulting in several cardiac arrests, and he died of pneumonia on Monday 21 November.
Hospital boss apologises
The chief executive of the Rotherham hospital, Dr Richard Jenkins, has now met Mr Ahmed and has apologised to him and the family.
Mr Ahmed said: “To me, it’s an acknowledgment that ‘we (the NHS) know we’ve made a mistake… and we’re working on it very hard to rectify that mistake’.
“But that mistake should not have happened. It’s cost the life of Yusuf.”
Mr Ahmed said more was needed.
“We want action to be done, the apology aside, we want answers, why has it cost Yusuf’s life, who’s responsible for it, what’s going to get done, what’s been done?”
Mr Ahmed said he had been told by NHS officials that since Yusuf’s death, the hospital has brought in another paediatric doctor to work in the A&E department and has cut waiting times for children there.
He said that on the evening when Yusuf was examined, there were 93 children in A&E and only one doctor to see them.
‘We want the truth’
Mr Ahmed said: “We want the hospital to reveal the truth to everybody. We want answers, for them to make changes and put stuff in place, so no other family suffers, no other child suffers, no other human suffers.”
Dr Jenkins said in a letter to the family’s MP Sarah Champion that he has spoken to Yusuf’s uncle to “directly express my condolences and to apologise to the family”.
Dr Jenkins wrote: “We have all been devastated to hear the family’s account of their experience of care and the ultimate death of Yusuf in Sheffield.
“It is vital that a thorough and independently conducted investigation takes place as soon as possible so the family can have answers to their concerns and we can identify where changes need to be made.
“Clearly assessment of clinical care and decisions requires the right expertise, so I am liaising with regional NHS England colleagues to identify appropriate independent investigators from outside South Yorkshire.”
In the letter, Dr Jenkins also explained the investigation “will involve the family in this so we can be sure that all their concerns will be fully addressed”.
Yusuf first complained of a sore throat on 13 November. His parents took him to their GP, who prescribed antibiotics.
The next day, when their son’s health did not improve, they drove him to the emergency department of Rotherham General Hospital.
Dr Jenkins said the investigation aims to cover the “whole pathway of Yusuf’s care, including both attendances with his GP, the Rotherham hospital attendance at the urgent and emergency care centre and subsequent contact from the family, the Yorkshire Ambulance Service and Sheffield Children’s Hospital”.
Stevie Nicks leads tributes after bandmate Christine McVie dies aged 79
Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks has led tributes to bandmate Christine McVie, who has has died aged 79, saying she had wanted to sing to her one last time.
The British-American rock band, founded in London in 1967, sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making them one of the most successful groups ever.
In a post on Facebook, McVie’s family wrote: “It is with a heavy heart we are informing you of Christine’s death.
“She passed away peacefully at hospital this morning, Wednesday, November 30th 2022, following a short illness. She was in the company of her family.”
The statement continued by asking for the family’s privacy to be respected at “this extremely painful time” and for everyone to remember the “revered musician who was loved universally”.
Bandmate Stevie Nicks paid tribute, tweeting a heartfelt handwritten note: “A few hours ago I was told that my best friend in the whole world since the first day of 1975, had passed away.
“I didn’t even know she was ill… until late Saturday night.
“I wanted to be in London; I wanted to get to London – but we were told to wait. So, since Saturday, one song has been swirling around in my head, over and over and over.
“I thought I might possibly get to sing it to her, and so, I’m singing to her now. I always knew I would need these words one day.”
She then wrote the lyrics to Hallelujah by Haim, a song about the death of a friend.
One of the best selling albums of all time
Among Fleetwood Mac’s best-known songs are Dreams, Go Your Own Way and Everywhere.
Singer-songwriter and keyboardist McVie penned Songbird, one of the band’s most famous tracks, as well as Oh Daddy, Little Lies and Don’t Stop.
She was sole writer of four of the tracks on their best selling album Rumours, which was released in 1977 and went on to become one of the most successful albums of all time – selling more than 40 million copies worldwide.
She also co-wrote the album’s The Chain, which had a second life as the theme to the Formula One BBC TV coverage from the late 1970s, on and off until the 2015.
Many of the songs on Rumours documented the break up of McVie and her husband John McVie – along with the split of fellow singer/songwriters Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, adding to the album’s notoriety.
The singles released from Rumours didn’t chart very high in the UK at the time, but it has gone on to be regarded as one of the best long players ever, featuring in numerous lists of top albums.
McVie was among the eight members of the band who were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, and she left the band a short time later following the death of her father.
She had a successful solo career and reunited with her bandmates in 2013 after a 15-year hiatus.
In 2017, she revealed that she had retreated from the world and developed agoraphobia after leaving Fleetwood Mac and moving from California to Kent.
‘The best musician anyone could have’
A message on the band’s Twitter page read: “There are no words to describe our sadness at the passing of Christine McVie. She was truly one-of-a-kind, special and talented beyond measure.
“She was the best musician anyone could have in their band and the best friend anyone could have in their life.
“We were so lucky to have a life with her. Individually and together, we cherished Christine deeply and are thankful for the amazing memories we have.”
Many others in the music world also paid tribute to her, with Sheryl Crow saying: “So sad to hear of Christine McVie going on to heaven. The world feels weird without her here. What a legend and an icon and an amazing human being.”
Bette Midler added on Twitter: “#ChristineMcVie has left us. What memories, what joy, and what a legacy…”
Duran Duran said: “So so sad to hear about Christine McVie an artist I held dear and close to my heart. One of the greatest all time songwriters, singers, and band members, she radiated both purity and sass in equal measure, bringing light to the music of the 70s.”
Harry Styles posted a black and white picture of the singer/songwriter on his Instagram stories, with a black loveheart emoji and a white dove emoji.
Born Christine Perfect in Bouth, Lancashire, McVie played piano in her childhood, but set aside her classical training once she heard early rock’n’roll numbers by Fats Domino and others.
She had moderate success with a band called Chicken Shack and as a solo artist before her marriage to John McVie, after which she joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970.
McVie’s death comes two years after Fleetwood Mac co-founder Peter Green died at the age of 73.
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