Now that the inquest into the awful death of Molly Russell in 2017 has delivered its findings, we have a new reality to adjust to. The teenager died from an act of self-harm, “while suffering depression and the negative effects of online content”. Her father described how she had entered “the bleakest of worlds”: online content on self-harm and suicide was delivered in waves by Instagram and Pinterest, just leaving it to the algorithm. “Looks like you’ve previously shown an interest in despair: try this infinitely replenishing stream of fresh despair.”
Social media platforms deliberately target users with content, seeking attention and therefore advertising revenue: we knew that. This content can be extremely damaging: we knew that, too. But surely now that we’ve struggled, falteringly, towards the conclusion that it can be deadly, there can be no more complacency. These are corporations like any other, and it’s time to build on the consensus that they cause harm by regulating, as we would if they were producing toxic waste and pumping it into paddling pools.