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Whistleblower blasts Instagram algorithm that may have shown Molly Russell harmful content

Social media ‘led Molly Russell down lethal rabbit hole’: Facebook whistleblower reveals Instagram algorithm may have shown the tragic teenager harmful content BEFORE she even searched for it

  • Schoolgirl Molly Russell took her own life at the age of 14 in November 2017 
  • Instagram’s algorithms may have presented the teenager with harmful content without her having to search for it
  • An inquest will look into the role social media platforms played in her death
  •  Facebook is facing increasing pressure after Frances Haugen revealed it knew the app had a negative impact on the mental health of youngsters


Instagram’s algorithms may have shown tragic teenager Molly Russell harmful content before she had even searched for it, a whistleblower has claimed.

The tech giant and its parent company Facebook has been under pressure ever since Frances Haugen revealed it knew the app worsened youngsters’ mental health.

An inquest is due next year that will seek to find out what role social media platforms played in the death of Molly, who took her own life aged 14 in 2017. 

Her father has previously accused Instagram of ‘helping to kill’ his daughter after he found she had been viewing graphic images of self-harm and suicide on the app.

Yesterday Miss Haugen suggested that while Molly may have ‘followed some stuff related to being a little blue’ the platform would have taken her down a dangerous rabbit hole.

Molly Russell took her own life aged just 14 in November 2017. An inquest, due to take place next year, will look into the what role social media sites played in her death

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen revealed the social media platform knew the app worsened youngsters’ mental health

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen revealed the social media platform knew the app worsened youngsters’ mental health

The former Facebook employee told The Sunday Telegraph: ‘I guarantee you that with the algorithm, if she kept engaging, it just kept getting worse.

‘Imagine you are kind of a fragile teen and you are being exposed to a little bit of stuff, talking about how you are worthless, and then [you] engage a little bit and it keeps getting worse and worse. It is bad.’ 

Miss Haugen is due to give evidence in Westminster on Monday to a joint committee scrutinising the draft Online Safety Bill.

The Bill will impose a duty of care on social media companies to protect users from harmful content and hand Ofcom the power to fine them up to 10 per cent of their global turnover.

Ahead of the hearing, she also warned that plans by Facebook to encrypt some of its services – including Instagram – would make it more difficult for law enforcement to catch criminals.

Miss Haugen, who quit as a Facebook product manager in May, has leaked thousands of internal documents revealing how much it knew its platforms were impacting children.

It included statistics showing Instagram content made a third of young users feel worse about their bodies.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been accused of showing no inclination to protect the public by a former employee

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been accused of showing no inclination to protect the public by a former employee

Miss Haugen’s intervention comes as yet more damaging reports emerge about the tech giant over the weekend after she gave several US news outlets access to the confidential research. 

One revealed how 10 per cent of all US views of political material on Facebook were posts falsely alleging the 2020 US presidential election had been fraudulent.

Yet attempts to stop this had been ‘piecemeal’, according to one document, which has reignited concerns about the company’s role in the Capitol Hill riots in January.

Miss Haugen said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who controls the business with a majority of its voting shares, had shown no inclination to protect the public.

She told The Observer: ‘Right now, Mark is unaccountable. He has all the control. He has no oversight, and he has not demonstrated that he is willing to govern the company at the level that is necessary for public safety.’

Miss Haugen further warned against Facebook’s controversial plans to encrypt its Messenger app and Instagram’s direct messages.

The Home Secretary stepped in earlier this year to criticise the move, which would mean only the sender and recipient can see the message.

Priti Patel warned that it would severely hamper the police in their efforts to ‘tackle abhorrent criminal acts and protect victims’.

Defending the plans, Facebook said it was to keep users safe from hackers and that it would ‘continue to receive user reports of suspicious messages’.

For confidential support, call the Samaritans on 116123, visit a local branch or go to samaritans.org

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