TikTok suicide video shocks community into action

  • TikTok
A highly disturbing livestreamed video of a man committing suicide on social media has shocked members of the community, with warnings to parents of tweens and teens to safeguard their children from seeing it.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Sep 10, 2020

The Hatzolah Crisis Response Unit on Tuesday night urgently alerted the community about the distressing video, and put out its emotional support helpline number in case anyone had seen the images and needed help.

The popular social media app, TikTok, this week warned parents about the suicide video doing the rounds. In the video, a man (believed to be American) is seen taking his own life. Reports suggest the video was livestreamed on Facebook and was then uploaded to the Chinese video-sharing social network service.

Worryingly, the video’s initial spread on TikTok has led to versions saved from the app spreading to other messaging services, including WhatsApp.

A number of schools in the community on Wednesday urged parents to be extra vigilant on all social media platforms, cautioning children to avoid TikTok for the time being while it dealt with the crisis.

Yeshiva College urged parents to check with their children whether they had seen the video. “Please be cautious and check that your children have not been exposed to this content. It puts your sons and daughters’ mental, physical and emotional health and safety at risk. We implore you to check your children’s phone, apps, and messages on a regular basis,” the letter said.

Meanwhile, according to The Guardian, TikTok has been battling to remove the graphic video after the footage was uploaded to the service on Sunday night from Facebook, where it was initially broadcast.

Although the footage was rapidly taken down from TikTok, users reportedly spent time earlier this week re-uploading it, initially unchanged, but later incorporated into so-called bait-and-switch videos, which are designed to shock and upset unsuspecting users.

Sarah Hoffman of Klikd SA, a social media training company for parents of teens and tweens told the SA Jewish Report this was “highly disturbing on so many levels and very scary for parents”.

“Among all the happy dances, fun pranks, and life hacks, TikTok allowed video footage of this live suicide to slip through the cracks. The graphic video shows a bearded man shooting himself with a gun. Although TikTok is scrambling to take it offline, and banning any users who post this, many of our kids may have been exposed to the clip on their ‘for you’ page, which pops any bits of any bobs onto their screen.”

Hoffman says the video has also been spliced into videos of popular TikTok influencers, or embedded into more innocuous-looking TikTok videos.

TikTok confirmed that it is taking down the footage as it finds it. “On Sunday night, clips of a suicide that had originally been livestreamed on Facebook circulated on other platforms, including TikTok,” a spokesperson told The Guardian.

“Our systems, together with our moderation teams, have been detecting and blocking these clips for violating our policies against content that displays, praises, glorifies, or promotes suicide,” the spokesperson said. “We are banning accounts that repeatedly try to upload clips, and we appreciate our community members who’ve reported content and warned others against watching, engaging or sharing such videos on any platform out of respect for the person and their family.”

Meanwhile social worker Sheri Hanson who works on Hatzolah’s Crisis Response Unit told the SA Jewish Report that it was vital for children to know they can reach out for help when needed. “Adults can’t make sense of disturbing content like this; we can’t expect kids to be able to.

“We want to empower kids to reach out for emotional support when they need it,” says Hanson. “If children find it difficult to talk to their parents, which is quite normal, they need to know that there is confidential, anonymous help that they can access,” she said.

“We are a well-resourced community and there is help available for young people and parents if needed. It is important to model for kids that it is acceptable to reach out for help,” she said.

She said when Hatzolah read the distressing media reports about the suicide video, it prompted the organisation to put out details of its emotional support line.

“When we heard about this video, we felt it was better to be pre-emptive rather than reactive.”

Hoffman said that although TikTok has robust systems in place for detecting and flagging disturbing clips, user-generated content can slip through the cracks.

User-generated content is content that individual social media users create and then upload immediately onto a public platform. The material is neither screened nor edited.

“My advice right now is to encourage anyone with kids using TikTok to stay off the platform for a few days, and also to engage in conversations with your children around this content. We have to address these things with our teens and tweens,” said Hoffman.

“There is a lot of suicide-related content on social media, some content even glamorises suicide making it seem like a viable option for people who are in a dark place and it preys on vulnerable teens and tweens,” she said.

“As parents, we have to take an active role in our kids’ social media use and make sure their chances of exposure are minimised, but also if they are exposed that they are having the right, healthy conversations around what this means. It is scary because 15 years ago the average 11-year-old didn’t know what suicide meant, and now it’s become a reality largely because of the proliferation of social media.”

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