The Dangers of Viral Violent Content
September 18, 2020
TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses suicide and violent online content. If this may be triggering for you, please consider clicking off this article or proceed with caution.
Over labor day weekend, a disturbing video resurfaced on social media platforms such as TikTok, Twitter, and Reddit. The video showed up initially on Facebook as a video recording of a livestream, and it showed a man committing suicide on Facebook Live in late August. The video sparked conversation surrounding suicide awareness, mental health, and desensitization to horrific media.
September is National Suicide Awareness Month, so the resurfacing of this video has raised an opportunity to discuss the correlation between mental health and social media. Especially during the month of September, it is important to speak about mental health, self-harm, and suicide in an effort to raise awareness and remove the stigma surrounding these topics. However, videos such as the one mentioned above can be harmful; the viral nature of shocking, de-humanizing videos typically glorify suicide, demean the subject of the videos, and trigger vulnerable viewers.
“I knew it was National Suicide Awareness month. I think it is super important [to talk about mental health] when you’re a teenager and to worry about your mental health first. At this age, it is so crucial for your future. Thats why it’s important to worry about it now while it’s most prominent,” said Julie Bolling (’21)
Many were wondering how the videos managed to evade community guidelines and video moderation filters, but the reality is, most platforms rely on machine learning and algorithms to flag down inappropriate content. Oftentimes, a disturbing video can be up for several minutes, hours, or days before it is flagged by machines or people and taken down.
Once the video is published online, it can be downloaded by anyone who sees it. Social media users with malicious intent will often take these videos and alter them — usually by adding media, changing the sounds, or editing with other effects — so that they can be re-uploaded and avoid detection. These constant changes and edits makes it impossible for machine learning to immediately take down dangerous content permanently.
Social media was flooded with warnings and descriptions of the man in the video to help reduce the number of views on the videos showing the suicide. While these warnings were helpful, they also alerted viewers, who might have not encountered the video otherwise, of its existence. This caused many curious individuals to go searching for it or spread it to others. Ultimately, it is impossible to determine exactly how many people saw the video.
“I think [the video] is really disturbing and sad, and I hope that nothing negative comes from people viewing it. I know that some of my friends saw it, and I think it’s really awful that something so dark is so public for all to see,” said Meredith Nitchals (‘21).
This is incredibly problematic for several reasons, but the main one being that the widespread nature of this content can cause viewers to become desensitized. The video that surfaced over Labor Day weekend is not the first of its kind, as these types of videos have always circulated online.
— Tanvi Singh (@TheTanviSingh) September 11, 2020
Desensitization to violent media content can cause a host of problems for individuals, as outlined by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. On a larger scale, widespread desensitization to violent content has been linked to increasing cases of depression, anxiety, and other emotional disorders, including suicide, among adolescents. Many mental health professionals have also pointed to desensitization as a cause for the lack of empathy and disconnect from traumatizing events among younger generations.
“The Academy of the Holy Names focuses on student well-being. Administrators, faculty, and staff are here to support students as they go through high school. The message of faith and community are essential to all. Youth suicide prevention is everybody’s business. Supporting others is our mission and reporting concerns to an adult is critical to helping others get the support they need. When in doubt, please share your concerns,” said High School Guidance Counselor Mary Beth Adams.
At Academy, the Diocese of Saint Petersburg provides required mental health training for teachers and administrators. Along with this, all students have access to guidance counselors. The guidance office is also considering the implementation of various programs and methods of raising awareness surrounding suicide prevention and mental health.
As for what individuals can do to prevent the spread of dangerous content, there is little one person can do besides report and flag inappropriate content. Challenges have also been created around showing shocking content to other people; by avoiding participation in these challenges, one can prevent the spread of violent content and desensitization. The constant publicity of violent online content is a battle that social media platforms and users will constantly have to face. Despite this, raising awareness about this type of content and the dangers it poses to society may help reduce its spread.
If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help.
A-L Guidance Counselor Mrs. Adams ([email protected])
M-Z Guidance Counselor Ms. Bakke ([email protected])
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 hotline
Crisis Center of Tampa Bay: 2-1-1 hotline
Crisis Text Line: text “HOME” to 741741