In January 2019, Mr. Russell went public with Molly’s story. Outraged that his young daughter could view such bleak content so easily and convinced that it had played a role in her death, he sat for a TV interview with the BBC that resulted in front-page stories across British newsstands.
Mr. Russell, a television director, urged the coroner reviewing Molly’s case to go beyond what is often a formulaic process, and to explore the role of social media. Mr. Walker agreed after seeing a sample of Molly’s social media history.
That resulted in a yearslong effort to get access to Molly’s social media data. The family did not know her iPhone passcode, but the London police were able to bypass it to extract 30,000 pages of material. After a lengthy battle, Meta agreed to provide more than 16,000 pages from her Instagram, such a volume that it delayed the start of the inquest. Merry Varney, a lawyer with the Leigh Day law firm who worked on the case through a legal aid program, said it had taken more than 1,000 hours to review the content.
What they found was that Molly had lived something of a double life. While she was a regular teenager to family, friends and teachers, her existence online was much bleaker.
In the six months before Molly died, she shared, liked or saved 16,300 pieces of content on Instagram. About 2,100 of those posts, or about 12 per day, were related to suicide, self-harm and depression, according to data that Meta disclosed to her family. Many accounts she interacted with were dedicated to sharing only depressive and suicidal material, often using hashtags that linked to other explicit content.
Many posts glorified inner struggle, hiding emotional duress and telling others “I’m fine.” Molly went on binges of liking and saving graphic depictions of suicide and self-harm, once after 3 a.m., according to a timeline of her Instagram usage.