October 6, 2022

British Ruling Says Social Media Contributed to Teenager’s Death: What school communities need to know

*Content Warning: This content mentions suicide and self-harm, so it might not be appropriate for younger students. Please review the content of this blog post before sharing it with your students.*

In 2017, 14-year-old teenager Molly Russell took her own life. This month, the court and her family say social media contributed to her death. Molly’s tragic story prompts the question for families and schools from all over: How much of a role does social media play in student depression, anxiety, and suicide? 

We’re breaking down what educators need to know about her case, and how you can help your students navigate social media in a safe and empowering way. 

How Social Media Impacted One Student

Molly Russell’s death came as such a shock to her family, as they believed her tech and social media use to be that of a normal teenager. After investigating into the circumstances of her death, Molly’s family went to court over the belief that social media was “feeding into the notion of self-harm and suicide.” 

Mr. and Ms. Russell saw no abnormalities in her behavior up until her death, but her father, Mr. Russell, did find concerning posts about depression and suicide in her ‘Saved’ folders on her Instagram and Pinterest accounts. After her death, the Russell family took her case to court, asking the question, “Did social media play a significant role in Molly’s death?” 

The courts ultimately ruled that social media did in fact play a significant role in her death, causing concern for parents and educators around the globe. It’s no secret that social media, when not used properly, can have a detrimental effect on student well-being and mental health, but should students ultimately be restricted from social media? Here are our thoughts: 

TSI’s Take on Restricting Social Media

We’re deeply saddened by Molly’s story, and it reminds us why our mission to empower students to use social media in positive ways and help educators and families better promote safe tech use is essential. 

While tragedies like this make it tempting to restrict your student from social media use, it is not realistic in this day and age. So much of daily life is now digital, so it’s important to empower students to connect with others and express themselves online. However, just as you would not give a student the keys to a car without drivers’ education, we have to be proactive in educating students about social media before they inevitably create their first account.

Other ways educators can empower students to navigate their digital worlds positively is:

  1. Stay up-to-date on all things social media and tech and have frequent conversations about social media and well-being with students.
  2. Become a support system for students while they use social media by reminding them you’re available to answer questions.
  3. Remind students that what we see on social media is a reflection of what we interact with online, so use the social media algorithm for good.
  4. Have relevant and engaging conversations about ways to stay safe online without scaring or restricting students.
  5. Create a safe space for students to say something if they see something happening on social media that they believe could be harmful to themselves or to others.

We can’t protect students from every danger, but we can educate and equip them with the resources to make safe and positive decisions. By empowering students to follow positive influencers, cyberback and support each other online and offline, and use their mic for good, social media can be a safe and positive space for students.

Want to better understand student experiences so you can better support student well-being and help them navigate social media and tech in positive ways? Contact us today to learn more about #WinAtSocial– a gamified learning platform designed to empower students to make positive, high-character decisions online. 

The Social Institute (TSI) is the leader in understanding student experiences and creator of #WinAtSocial, a gamified, online learning platform that equips students, educators, and families to navigate social experiences — online and offline — in healthy ways. Our unique, student-respected approach incorporates topics like social media, technology use, and current events that have a significant impact on student well-being. Lessons teach life skills for the modern day to inspire high-character decisions that support the health, happiness, and future success of students, while capturing data that provides insights to school leaders to inform school policy and communications, and enable high-impact teaching and a healthy learning environment. For schools, our turnkey technology allows for easy implementation and a comprehensive game plan to support the well-being of school communities. For schools, our turnkey technology allows for easy implementation and a comprehensive game plan to support the well-being of school communities.