Public advisory – Distressing content on TikTok

8 Sep, 2020

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is today issuing a public advisory that footage that appears to show a man dying by suicide is being shared on the social media platform TikTok and viewers of this video may be extremely distressed. While the platform is working to remove the footage, it has been copied and distributed elsewhere.

“Do not share this video under any circumstances,” MHF chief executive Shaun Robinson says. “And don’t share websites or places it can be found. It puts vulnerable people at an extremely high risk of real harm. There is no reason whatsoever to share it.”

The Foundation advises anyone who may be affected by this video to avoid TikTok and other social media platforms where it may be shared for a few days and reminds parents and caregives to closely monitor their children’s social media activity, particularly at the moment.

The Foundation is very concerned that awareness of the video among young people in New Zealand has increased today, with many well-meaning attempts to caution followers not to share the video inadvertently raising awareness of the video’s existence and comments sections sharing links to websites where the video can still be found.

“Suicide is a contagious behaviour and we are deeply concerned that this video is being shared,” Mr Robinson says. “Viewers are likely to be considerably distressed after seeing the video, and, as it appears to have been widely viewed, the Foundation has decided to speak out requesting parents, caregivers and others supporting young people take proactive steps to check in on young people and those who may be vulnerable to suicide.”

It is always difficult to balance a need for parents and caregivers to be aware of any risks to their children with real concerns about alerting more people to the existence and availability content that will cause harm.

“You don’t need to mention the video, but it’s never a bad time to check in,” Mr Robinson says.

Increasing media coverage and sharing on social media has created widespread panic and alarm and the Foundation wants New Zealanders to feel confident they can mitigate the harm this video may cause by having supportive and open conversations, particularly with young people and those who may be at risk of suicide.

There is no evidence anyone in New Zealand have harmed themselves as a result of the video but it is a risk we must be aware of and must respond to. 

Young people are aware of and talking about this video. Some may be distressed by it, others may be intrigued and seeking out ways to find it.

Young people use social media differently to adults and will almost inevitably encounter material related to mental health, self-harm and suicide. As adults it’s our job to ensure they are supported to talk about things that concern them and access any help they need.

The Foundation is aware authorities and professionals in New Zealand are working with social media platforms to try and remove content that contains footage of the video or references it. This will take some time, and in the meantime parents and caregivers must take the lead in keeping young people safe online.

It’s up to us to bridge the gaps that exist between adults and rangatahi and ensure we’re not making problems worse. Social media can be a huge positive for many young people – banning it isn’t the answer. We need to ensure young people feel they can safely talk to the adults in their lives about distressing things they have seen or heard without fear of punishment or losing access to social media.

The Foundation strongly advises media and the public to exercise extreme caution when talking about the video, and balance the very real risks of further distribution against the public interest to know. Please include suicide prevention information in any discussion or coverage of this video. Suicide is preventable, there is help available and the risks associated with this video can be managed. 

ENDS

The Foundation is available for comment regarding suicide prevention. We cannot comment on steps being taken to remove the video or how authorities and social media platforms are working on this.

Contact:
Sophia Graham
021 740 454

What to do to help support people who may have viewed this video:

DO:

  • Read Connecting through Kōrero – a guide to having safe, open, honest and compassionate kōrero about suicide with taiohi/young people before approaching your young people
  • Read Netsafe’s guidance to helping young people exposed to upsetting content
  • Find a private, quiet opportunity to talk
  • Take a breath and don’t get angry with them for accessing content you’d rather they didn’t see. Anger or judgement shuts conversations down and it’s the opposite of what we need right now.
  • If you know your young people are aware of the video, ask them directly how they feel about it
  • If you’re not sure if your young people are aware of the video and don’t want them to find about it, ask them if they have seen anything online lately that has worried or upset them
  • Affirm their feelings – let them know however they’re feeling is all right and you’re there for them at any time. Feeling upset, triggered or even extremely distressed after seeing the video is completely normal, human and understandable. Let them know they deserve help and support.
  • Keep an eye on your young people for signs they have become depressed or withdrawn, have significant mood changes, stop participating in things they used to enjoy or start talking negatively about themselves
  • Keep an eye out for signs your young person might be self-harming – these signs can include wearing long-sleeved shirts or long pants when the weather is warm, having unexplained injuries, scars, bruises or marks and washing their own clothes separately
  • Be patient – let them know you’re there to talk whenever they’re ready.

DON’T:

  • Share anything that includes an image of the footage as this creates further panic and has led to some young children becoming very distressed
  • Share websites or places where the video can still be found. It is absolutely not worth the risk of someone viewing the video.
  • Re-post things from Facebook/Twitter/Instagram accounts that are not verified and not from credible sources
  • Share content that creates alarm or panic without supporting adults or young people to respond well or giving information/advice about how to get help.

Helplines

Need to talk?

Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.

Lifeline

0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE).

Youthline

0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat.

Samaritans

0800 726 666.

Note for Māori: You can also contact or visit your local Māori or iwi social and health organisation for support.

Useful resources:

Connecting through Kōrero, Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand: a guide to having safe, open, honest and compassionate kōrero about suicide with taiohi/young people.

Information for parents and caregivers, Office of Film and Literature Classification: information and support for parents to talk to their young people about the media they consume – including things they see online.

Social Media and Suicide: A Tipsheet for Parents and Providers, American Association of Suicide Prevention: an easy-to-use tipsheet for parents, health providers and caregivers. It is the goal of AAS and our member experts to provide parents and providers the help they need to make the world safer for youth at risk for suicide.

#chatsafe: A young person's guide for communicating safely online about suicide, Orygen: These guidelines have been developed in partnership with young people to provide support to those who might be responding to suicide-related content posted by others or for those who might want to share their own feelings and experiences with suicidal thoughts, feelings or behaviours. The #chatsafe guidelines may also provide practical assistance to parents, educators and those who provide support to young people engaging in online activities.

Netsafe’s advice for parents, Netsafe: a series of resources for parents to support them to keep their young people safe online.