Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Sarah Schuster, The Mighty’s Mental Health Editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
In what he claims was not a publicity stunt, rapper XXXTentacion posted a video to his Instagram of what appears to be him dangling from a tree after hanging himself.
Both criticism and concern were swift from many of his 2.8 million followers, and the short video — which was posted without comment — has been viewed over a million times in less than a day. About four hours after posting the troublesome video, the rapper posted a follow-up video to show that he did not, in fact, kill himself, and that the post was actually a sneak peek of his upcoming music video.
He wrote, “If you thought I would ‘pretend’ to kill myself for a publicity stunt you’re fucking stupid.”
According to Hip Hop DX, XXXTentacion added in a live stream, “It was a prop for my music video. Everybody needs to chill the fuck out. I was just trying to preview it. I didn’t know people would not catch on… I was in the middle of shooting it, so I couldn’t explain myself … I’m not playing around with suicide. Especially since I had a girl kill herself in my fuckin’ hotel room. Not even two, three months ago.”
But, as some pointed out on Twitter, the content of the video was problematic, real or not.
While the debate in the comments section of the video was largely about whether or not the video — which has not been taken down — should have been posted in the first place. Another question begs to be answered: Should a video of someone hanging themselves, fake or not, be allowed to be posted on Instagram at all?
Instagram is infamously quick to take down photos of nudity (specifically: female nipples), and has a section in its community guidelines specifically explaining its nudity policy. The guidelines also go into detail about Instagram’s self-harm and violence policy, but there’s no language that addresses suicide attempts or suicidal behavior.
So while Instagram will remove posts that it deems triggering or unhelpful for people who self-harm, what does this mean for suicide?
Facebook is no stranger to this problem, and you can find plenty of heartbreaking reports online about users who have used its live streaming feature to share their suicide or other acts of violence. Facebook has been criticized for being too slow to delete these posts and recently hired more moderators to handle the influx of violent or triggering live videos on its platform.
For a casual Instagram user scrolling through their feed, whether an act of violence or suicide is real or not does not lessen its potential impact, especially when the video is ambiguous. When the popular Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” depicted a fictitious (but very real looking) suicide scene, at the very least, viewers were able to maybe prepare themselves or chose not to watch if they knew the content would be triggering. But people don’t have this luxury of choice when something appears in their social media feed — and when we opt in to following accounts, we’re typically not expecting to see a video of someone taking their life, no matter how “edgy” or controversial the person may be. It’s not fair when a video depicting suicide pops up in a user’s feed, without any warning.
Even with the precautions “13 Reasons Why” took, its graphic suicide scene was criticized because no matter how many trigger warnings you use, experts argue that graphic images of suicide aren’t helpful. Ever. As John Ackerman, a clinical psychologist and suicide prevention coordinator at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, previously told The Mighty, “Are we going to make the people of Flint, Michigan drink a bunch of poisonous water to bring awareness to the fact that they should have clean water?”
Essentially, showing suicide isn’t the same thing as spreading suicide prevention, and because of this, many arguments trying to justify a graphic suicide scene fall flat. In reality, choices to include graphic depictions of suicide are motivated by “entertainment value,” and are only good for triggering or re-traumatizing both suicide loss survivors and suicide attempt survivors, while possibly putting people who struggle with suicidal ideation at risk. Instead of spreading awareness of what suicide looks like, it’s much more useful to spread awareness that suicidal thoughts aren’t shameful, that there’s support available for people who are suicidal and that there are people who have survived both suicide attempt and suicidality who can provide hope for others. These are things everybody, music artist or not, should think about before sharing graphic images or photos in the name of being edgy or promoting “suicide awareness.”
If social media platforms have guidelines about self-injury, it’s time they have guidelines about suicide methods as well. Reporting on suicide guidelines suggest refraining from describing suicide methods, and it’s reasonable this same standard is used for videos on social media. Because if Instagram really wants to “clean up the internet,” as its CEO has claimed, it shouldn’t forget about people who could be affected by images of suicide — real or not.
The Mighty reached out to Instagram about XXXTentacion’s post and has yet to hear back.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.