In Malaysia, a 16-year-old girl posted a poll on Instagram asking if she should kill herself. When the majority of the respondents said yes, she killed herself on 15 May, according to media reports.
Instagram is becoming increasingly popular, with 1 billion monthly users, 60 percent of which are in the 16-24 age bracket.
There has been a disturbing trend in teen suicides directly related to social media – often even live-streamed online. Several studies have shown that social media exacerbates a negative image of self and can contribute to mental health issues.
Police in Sarawak, east Malaysia, said the teen posted the poll “Really Important, Help Me Choose D/L” on her Instagram account, and presumably saw that 69 percent of responders said ‘Death’ before she died by suicide, reported The Guardian.
Lawyer and MP in Penang, Ramkarpal Singh, said that the responders of her poll might be considered guilty of abetting suicide.
The jury is still out on how to navigate the murky ethics of the responders and social media at large and if legal repercussions are at all possible – in short, it remains to be seen if anyone can be held accountable for the tragedy.
What to Do When We See Distress Calls on Social Media?
The internet and social media are in-built into our lives, we need them for work and play. But the dark hole of social media is one where users’ admit increasing isolation and apathy.
What do we do if we find ourselves falling and there’s only Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat to hold onto? And what to do if we see something disturbing or someone calling out for help through social media?
While the answer to the latter question seems obvious, many times we scroll past distressing content because we either don’t want to get involved, don’t know how to or don’t believe it.
But one of the main things to do is report anything that seems like a cry for help – even seemingly banal posts.
Reaching out and starting conversations around mental health will normalise the feelings and encourage more people to seek help professionally.
Then, it is important to contact local emergency services or helplines and alert them to the posts. There are many NGOs that provide mental healthcare.
Beyond individual contribution, overall there has to be a change in national attitudes to mental health, and one of the ways to do this is by implementing and strengthening specific government schemes like the Mental Health Care Act, 2017.
‘Thoughts and Prayers’ Are Not Enough
Meanwhile, Instagram representatives told The Guardian that they had a “deep responsibility” to ensure safety on the platform, and urged users to use reporting tools or contact emergency services.
Beyond that, Instagram APAC’s head of communications, Ching Yee Wong said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with this young woman’s family.”
But these are just not enough, and social media platforms must be held accountable to tangibly ensure safety measures for all their users.
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