Troubling content: Guiding discussion of death by suicide on social media

Julie Brownlie, Justin Chun‐ting Ho, Nikki Dunne, Nichole Fernández, Tim Squirrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Growing concerns about “online harm” and “duty of care” fuel debate about how best to regulate and moderate “troubling content” on social media. This has become a pressing issue in relation to the potential application of media guidelines to online discussion of death by suicide—discussion which is troubling because it is often transgressive and contested. Drawing on an innovative mixed‐method analysis of a large‐scale Twitter dataset, this article explores in depth, for the first time, the complexities of applying existing media guidelines on reporting death by suicide to online contexts. By focusing on five highly publicised deaths, it illustrates the limits of this translation but also the significance of empathy (its presence and absence) in online accounts of these deaths. The multi‐relational and politicised nature of empathy, and the polarised nature of Twitter debate, suggests that we need to step back from calls for the automatic application of guidelines produced in a pre‐digital time to understand more about the sociocultural context of how suicide is discussed on social media. This stepping back matters because social media is now a key part of how lives and deaths are deemed grievable and deserving of our attention.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociology of Health & Illness
Early online date26 Feb 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Feb 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • bereavement
  • empathy
  • guidelines
  • social media
  • suicide


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