The First Suicide Live Streamed On TikTok

21/02/2019

The word "suicide" is despised by many, but somehow attracts many others when it comes to viewers.

The world can still remember a 12-year-old girl who broadcasted her death on social media. Then there was an Italian woman who committed suicide after her sex tapes became memes.

Then there was Logan Paul's suicide video controversies, among many others.

Many platforms are continuously dealing with the term "suicide" and people taking their own lives. Many failed to police their platforms properly that the footage slipped through and viewed by many.

This time, it's TikTok's turn.

TikTok was busy creating some PR responses, and not immediately alerting the authorities about João's suicide
TikTok internal document detailing João's suicide case. (Credit: The Intercept)

João was 19-years old and living in Curitiba, the capital of the state of Paraná in southern Brazil.

In the afternoon, he took his own life after previously issuing a warning to his fans that he had been planning on a special performance. After the video where he killed himself was watched by at least 250 people, the footage quickly went viral. It received hundreds of comments and some complaints.

But what made this case different is that, it took TikTok a while to deal with it, not only because it failed to do so, but also because it was busy preparing for a PR strategy to deal with this case.

The video remained on the platform for more than an hour and a half, simply showing João’s body.

Officials at TikTok, which has seen a meteoric rise among a sea of phone apps, only became aware of the suicide around two hours later. It was after that that TikTok’s Brazil office began to take steps to minimize the impact any potential story would have in the press.

The public relations strategy is meant to ensure that what had occurred would never made headlines.

In the statement, it wanted to take no responsibility for failures of moderation that left the video online for more than an hour.

TikTok didn't contact the authorities, and instead reached for the boy's family, also to avoid tarnishing its reputation.

In total, the company wasted around three hours after knowing about the suicide, before reaching out to the police.

Officials inside TikTok issued internal orders to ensure that the story did not go “viral” and said its local office should monitor TikTok and other social media platforms to see if the story surfaced publicly.

TikTok was busy creating some PR responses, and not immediately alerting the authorities about João's suicide
TikTok was busy creating some PR responses, and not immediately alerting the authorities about João's suicide. (Credit: The Intercept)

Suicide is the second-largest cause of death among people between the ages of 15 and 24, and in Brazil, the number of young people who die by suicide is increasing. Social media platforms are just the medium that expose the horrific moment for the public to see.

In 2018, TikTok was downloaded more than 18 million times in Brazil. This makes the country the sixth-largest market in the world for the app.

João is not the first person to have shown their own death on TikTok. However, his case was the first that live streamed it on the app.

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have strategies in place to deal with sensitive contents, including suicide cases. While online companies have no legal obligation to deal with offensive or troubling content, the two are already partnering with institutions specializing in suicide prevention like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and use extensive machine learning technology to detect such contents from appearing, or preventing them from being viewed or spread.

These platforms also have teams that focus on streamlining contact and collaboration with local authorities.

This are the things that TikTok didn't have in João’s case.

Around 2018, TikTok had a similar case, where it removed content related to a suicide from its network and alerted local authorities.