Saturday, 8 December 2012

Suicide and Social Media

In light of the suspected suicide of the nurse who answered the prank call made by two Australian DJs to the King Edward VII hospital earlier this week, I want to make a brief appeal for restraint to those of you that use social media such as Twitter.

The Samaritans warn journalists that irresponsible reporting of suicide can increase the likelihood that others will attempt it. They advise that any coverage must take care not to simplify the reasons for the person’s death, never to claim that there are ‘positive’ side effects and to avoid any melodramatic or romantic descriptions of the event or its repercussions.

The torrent of complaints and abuse that the Australian radio station is receiving as a result of this call comes dangerously close to breaching all these rules. We do not actually know anything about the nurse in question, or her personal circumstances. There is a simplistic assumption that the prank call was the cause of the suicide, when it is likely to have more complex causes. The way that the public outcry has caused the DJs in question to be taken off the air comes close to providing the suicide with a form of utility, which it categorically did not have. What happened was that two teenagers lost their mother. No justice has been served.

I am bringing the journalistic guidelines to your attention because in the age of Twitter we are all journalists. We all have a responsibility, when publishing on a public forum, to ensure that what we say will not make incidents like this more likely.

If you wish to talk through any issues raised in this post, then the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They can be contacted by phone on 08457 90 90 90 (UK) and 1850 60 90 90 (ROI).

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