The mainstream media have gotten so much better at covering deaths by suicide. Now we must talk about social media and doing our job to bring awareness to the public, because it made content sharing easy and everyone wants to spread knowledge or be the first to enlighten their followers. Regardless of your reason for sharing, we have to raise our conscience to certain sensitive topics.
Let me introduce some data:
In the Midwest region alone, 635 Black people died by Suicide in 2019. This region includes Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, and Michigan. One Purpose Magazine targets this specific demographic this is why we often cover this topic to support bringing awareness. We found that 498 of these suicide deaths were males and 137 were females in the data.
According to a very early report on the influences of media on Suicide, researchers found, An important aspect of the presentation of Suicide in the media is that it usually oversimplifies the causes, attributing the act to single factors such as financial disasters, broken relationships, or failure in examinations. In addition, the most common factor leading to Suicide, mental illness, is often overlooked.
What did we witness recently on Social Media?
I work in death reporting, so death data, particularly suicide data, are not foreign to me. So when the media has to cover, I can see and understand the sensitivity they have learned to employ, but scrolling through my newsfeed and seeing reports differs from doing but seeing actual footage of someone planning a double homicide-suicide and finding out through reports that they actually followed through on the plan that they posted.
This happened just recently when many news outlets reported the double murder-suicide of Hartford, Connecticut man who murdered his ex-wife, ex-girlfriend, then turned the gun on himself. I heard about the story and just was not ready to follow what happened until many of the details were discovered through the investigations and they released actual reports. (Graphic Content) Before that happened, someone found footage through Facebook of the male individual who was believed to have committed the homicides and died by Suicide. The footage was of him admitting to murdering his ex-girlfriend and planning to murder his ex-wife, then turn the gun on himself.
Initially, I stopped watching because I had no clue what they would show. Then, I began seeing it all over social media. Even some well-known content creators screen-recorded and covered it on their shows. Having an idea of the media standards in relation to death by Suicide, I cringed every time I saw it. I witnessed exactly what the research has said for years. This time it was not just mainstream media oversimplifying the incident; it was social media as well.
Who is responsible for how these types of videos are shared?
Facebook, owned by Meta, Transparency Center on dealing with suicide attempts, says:
“Regarding live content, experts have told us that if someone is saying they intend to attempt Suicide on a Livestream, we should leave the content up for as long as possible because the longer someone is talking to a camera, the more opportunity there is for a friend or family member to call emergency services.
However, to minimize the risk of others being negatively impacted by viewing this content, we will stop the Livestream at the point at which the threat turns into an attempt.”
Reporting on Suicide says, over 100 studies worldwide have found that risk of contagion is real, and responsible reporting can reduce the risk of additional suicides.
Suicide is a public health issue that we cannot over-simplify. However, many people have acknowledged their mental health issues or have found people they can talk to about their thoughts and were able to heal so that they can live long, fulfilling lives. Here are some success stories.