Meta accused of withholding data from inquest into Molly Russell’s death

Tech giant Meta has been accused of withholding data from an inquest into the death of teenager who ended her life after viewing ‘dreadful’ content.

18 February 2022

A lawyer representing the family of a teenager who ended her life after viewing “pretty dreadful” social media content has accused Meta of using “wholly misconceived and fabricated” arguments to withhold data from an inquest into her death.

The Instagram and Facebook parent company was ordered to disclose further information about the social media use of 14-year-old Molly Russell at a pre-inquest review at North London Coroner’s Court on Friday.

The teenager, from Harrow in north-west London, viewed material linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide before ending her life in November 2017.

Her inquest will look at how algorithms used by social media giants to keep users hooked may have contributed to her death.

NSPCC’s How Safe Are Our Children? conference
Ian Russell, father of Molly Russell, 14, who took her own life in November 2017 after viewing disturbing material online (PA)

While data on what content Molly liked, shared, or saved on the platform had been disclosed regarding accounts marked as public, Meta has so far refused to disclose the same data for accounts which are now set as private, citing its privacy and data protection obligations.

However, Senior Coroner Andrew Walker has now ordered the company to divulge the data, even if it comes in a redacted form.

Meta was also ordered to disclose documents and data in relation to research it had conducted into the harm that may be caused to children by using its platforms.

Her family’s lawyers said they had requested data on what content was promoted to Molly by algorithms but Meta’s lawyer Samuel Jacobs told the court the company did not hold it.

The same, he said, applied to content which Molly viewed but did not engage with.

Oliver Sanders QC told the court Meta was withholding data in relation to the private accounts with “wholly misconceived and fabricated” arguments about its GDPR and privacy obligations, adding that Pinterest had already shared the requested data.

He said: “What Mr Jacobs says is that they are unable to disclose any more, that simply means they are unwilling to disclose anymore.”

Mr Sanders said he and his team were “stuck in this endless loop of requesting material from Meta and not getting it despite the fact that it exists”.

He added: “And I think it comes back to the point of unwillingness not inability.”

Mr Jacobs said the allegation is “not accepted and frankly is not correct”.

“It [Meta] is certainly willing to assist this inquest and it’s done so by putting forward its head of health and wellbeing.”

A further pre-inquest review is scheduled to take place at 1pm on March 16 ahead of a full hearing in April .

A hearing last year heard how a huge volume of “pretty dreadful” Instagram posts had been disclosed to the investigation.

It heard how, on Twitter, Molly tweeted or retweeted 460 times, liked 4,100 tweets, was following 116 accounts and had 42 followers.

She was a much more active user of Pinterest, with more than 15,000 engagements, including 3,000 saves, in the last six months of her life.

Molly did not have a Facebook profile, the inquest heard.

But in the last six months of her life, she was engaging with Instagram posts around 130 times a day on average.

This included 3,500 shares during that time frame, as well as 11,000 likes and 5,000 saves.

The court previously heard Twitter had provided Molly’s father, Ian Russell, with access to her Twitter profile so he could pore over some of the material she liked or shared.

Senior Coroner Andrew Walker has also asked for a psychologist with expertise in the potential psychological impacts viewing extreme material would have on a teenager be appointed to give evidence.

More from Perspective

Get a free copy of our print edition


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

Your email address will not be published. The views expressed in the comments below are not those of Perspective. We encourage healthy debate, but racist, misogynistic, homophobic and other types of hateful comments will not be published.