Is Facebook Responsible For Suicides Being Broadcasted On Its Platform?

More And More Teens Use Facebook Live To Broadcast Suicides

In today’s day and age social media has became a daily norm. Unfortunately that norm now includes the broadcasting of suicides.

In the past two months two different teenagers and one adult have live broadcasted their suicides for the whole world to see. Now the question has arose, does Facebook hold some responsibility for these graphic videos going viral?

In January a 14-year-old Miami girl broadcasted her suicide using Facebook Live. Nakia Venant was in Florida’s foster care system when the tragedy happened. She was found unresponsive inside the home she was living at after hanging herself in the bathroom while her foster parents were asleep.

Nakia Venant. Photo: Miami Herald

Just a couple of days after Venant’s suicide an aspiring 33-year-old actor from Texas also broadcasted his suicide on Facebook Live. Frederick Bowdy had recently been arrested on suspicion of sexual assault. A family member saw Bowdy’s post and called the Los Angeles Police Department, but police were too late. The video was later removed from Facebook.

Less than a month earlier a 12-year-old Georgia girl also broadcasted her suicide through a streaming app called The 40-minute video then appeared on YouTube, Facebook and various other sites. The teen, Katelyn Nicole Davis, apologized and then proceeded to tie a rope to a tree outside her families home before stepping off a foothold. YouTube immediately took the video down, but it lingered on Facebook for nearly two weeks.

Three suicides broadcasted in less than two months. Has social media become such a norm for some users that these sad incidents could become a trend?

Photo: Katelyn Nicole Davis Facebook. Frederick Bowdy Instagram.

Kelli S. Burns, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the School of Mass Communications, University of South Florida. Her research interests include the intersection of social media and popular culture. Burns said Facebook is used for a variety of reasons today and sometimes those uses are tragic.

“There are some people who want to live their lives as if they were on a reality television show and so I think we are seeing people using social media sites to broadcast all kinds of things and sadly sometimes those are very tragic incidents,” said Burns in an interview with News Talk Florida.

Photo: Miami Herald

Following the death of Venant, Facebook released a statement saying the site has tools where people can report suicide threats or suicide thoughts.

“We take our responsibility to keep people safe on Facebook very seriously and work with organizations around the world to provide assistance for people in distress,” the company said to NBC 6 following the tragic event.

Yet those tools aren’t exactly easily seen nor promoted. The suicide information can be found under the Desktop Help tab on Facebook. It is most easily found by Googling “how to report a suicide on facebook.”

However, the suicide help on Facebook is set up for users to flag any content that suggests someone might be thinking about committing suicide.

“I would agree Facebook does have some information in their help center on the topic of suicide prevention so you can go in and read this if somebody is thinking about suicide themselves,” said Burns. “Also they have some resources if you see a friend posting about considering suicide and one of the things you can do there is flag Facebook and Facebook will tackle the issue the best they can.”

“I think the average consumer doesn’t realize those resources are there or even what they should do if they see something on Facebook,” said Burns.

Daniel J. Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, said to NBC 6 that Facebook has saved more suicidal people than have killed themselves because of it, but those incidents haven’t received the attention.

In connection with the deaths of Venant, Bowdy and Davis many viewers did reach out to local police and attempted to help them, however police didn’t arrive in time. The problem that still lies within though is that the videos were viral on Facebook.

For Davis her video was viral for nearly two weeks before it was brought down. Many were outraged that the videos were even broadcasted on the site for as long as they were.

“Facebook is first and foremost a data company and most people often think of them more as a communication tool or social media tool, but really Facebook is a data company,” said Burns. “I personally think Facebook can’t be held responsible for how people use it, but at the same time I would say they do have an ethical responsibility to respond should they see anything that concerns them.”

Even with reporting suicide threats and thoughts it seems social media might have such a big impact in today’s society that these type of broadcasts just can’t be completely stopped. Burns suggested that the best way to stop these broadcasts is to step in. Social media is doing their part in monitoring content and inspecting anything reported.

“I would say for the social media sites, as well as friends of anybody who see’s a Facebook Live broadcast that seems serious, that they should definitely step in. They should call 911, they shouldn’t just sit back and think ‘oh this person is faking or maybe somebody else has called’.”

“I think it’s a good idea for friends of anyone who see’s something of concern to step in. Or even the social media site to be monitoring the content that is being posted flagging or looking for this kind of problematic content that’s posted and responding to that.”

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Florida’s suicide rate is above the national average.


Photo: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention site.

Anyone that see’s any type of suicidal activity on any social media site is highly urged to flag it and contact local authorities.