Man Killed Himself On Facebook Live. Facebook Contained It, TikTok Struggled

06/09/2020

On August 31, a Mississippi man named Ronnie McNutt, committed suicide and documented his death on Facebook Live.

McNutt who was 33 years old, survived by his mother and two siblings, shot himself to death with a shotgun to the head, at his home in New Albany, Mississippi.

His death went viral after he streamed it.

Facebook was quick in removing the video. While many did manage to download the video and uploaded it elsewhere, platforms managed to combat the horrifying video to various degree that some can be considered a success. But here, TikTok struggled.

TikTok works non-stop to stop the spread of the graphic video.

The popular social media platform has also tried stopping the video from circulating by banning the accounts of people who try to re-upload it multiple times, but struggles to really contain it.

Ronnie McNutt.
Ronnie McNutt was said to have suffered from depression after losing his job and his girlfriend.

According to Hilary McQuaide, a spokesperson for TikTok:

"Our systems have been automatically detecting and flagging these clips for violating our policies against content that displays, praises, glorifies, or promotes suicide."

"We are banning accounts that repeatedly try to upload clips, and we appreciate our community members who've reported content and warned others against watching, engaging, or sharing such videos on any platform out of respect for the person and their family."

What makes TikTok struggle, is the nature of the video and its algorithms.

At the start, the video shows the grey-bearded McNutt sitting in front of his desk. The seemingly harmless video surfaced mostly through TikTok's For You feed, which automatically surfaces content based on a users' interests, made by both those who were and weren't followed by the users.

And the more disturbing part of the video is that it has no context, and it surfaced alongside other innocent-looking and fun TikTok posts.

These facts led to many people accidentally exposing themselves to the gory video.

Making things worse, trolls are also inserting sections from the video into other seemingly harmless clips in an effort to trick people into watching it. This further escalated the video's popularity.

Ronnie McNutt's suicide video again highlights the weakness of TikTok's algorithm.

While all social networks have had, to some extent, trouble moderating their platforms, TikTok's recommendation engine makes it difficult for the company to prevent content like this from spreading. The TikTok community has played their part by trying to protect others by sharing content warnings, telling their followers to avoid the video if it shows up on their For You feed.

They told their followers to look out for an image - which shows NcNutt sitting in front of his desk - and quickly swipe away from that video.

This isn't the only viral suicide video that went viral to this degree.

In 2017, BuzzFeed News found at least 45 instances of violence — suicides, shootings, murders, torture, and child abuse — that were streamed via Facebook Live since it first launched in December 2015. In total, there are at least hundreds of suicides that have been documented on the internet and social media, and many have been circulating ever since, especially in 'underground forums and websites'.

In the past, websites like Reddit have also come under fire for being slow in removing videos of suicide or other violent acts from its platform.

But McNutt's suicide is especially egregious because nearly the exact same thing has happened numerous times before on TikTok.

Further reading: The First Suicide Live Streamed On TikTok

Ronnie McNutt suicide video.
Ronnie McNutt's video looks harmless at first, with him checking his phone just before the sudden gore. The shotgun can be seen on his left.

Ronnie McNutt, born in May 1987, was a “very caring, committed, loyal, dependable, and eccentric”, according to a church that confirmed his death on its own Facebook Page.

“He served his church faithfully and was loved by many,” the Celebration Church Tupelo added.

He was said to have enjoyed and performed theater plays, and was also a member of the Comic-Con club. The obituary states that he was working at the Toyota plant in Blue Springs at the time of his death and he was a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve, having served in the Iraq War.

On his Facebook Page, McNutt indicated that he was also a former account manager at GardaWorld, a Canadian private security firm.

Following McNutt's death, many of his friends shared their grief.