Are TikTok Algorithms Changing How People Talk About Suicide?


Some of the respondents expressed concern about completely avoiding the word “suicide.” One participant said it was “dangerous” and “isolating” to avoid the word, while another said, “My brother committed suicide and my sister tried to commit suicide. I don’t think we should be afraid of use the word “.

“Overall, respondents indicated a preference for terms that were considered real, clear, descriptive, commonly used, non-emotional, non-stigmatizing, respectful, and validating,” says Padmanathan. More research is needed to determine if “not living” could be stigmatizing, but he points out that words can and do affect our way of thinking about suicide, citing a 2018 study.

The study, led by a communications scientist at the University of Munich, presented participants with news stories about suicide that were identical except for the word used to describe the suicide itself. Some of the reports included the neutral German term “Suizid” (suicide), while others used the more problematic terms “Freitod” (free death) and “Selbstmord” (self-murder). The study found that people were more likely to later use the word they had read and that people’s attitudes toward the suicides they read about were different depending on the word in the piece.

This research is crucial because, as Padmanathan points out, the words we use can determine whether or not people seek help for their problems. Without controlled studies, it is impossible to know the effect that “non-living” has on people who access resources. Padmanathan says it is unclear whether euphemisms perpetuate stigma; in their 2019 study, some participants felt that euphemisms trivialized suicide, while others felt that they were preferable in certain contexts.

However, Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, expresses concern when asked about “not living.” “Having alternative or indirect ways of saying things, to avoid saying them directly, sends a message that the meaning is indescribable,” says Tannen. He cites the term “pro-election”: “Apparently it means supporting abortion rights, but avoiding the word ‘abortion’ helps to stigmatize it,” he says.

Tannen says not all alternative words to “suicide” are stigmatizing; she believes “taking life” is still explicit enough to avoid stigma. But it often examines the “metamissage” of words, a meaning that is not in the word itself, but that can be determined from the way words are said or their context. “It could be said that banning the word‘ suicide ’sends a metamessage that suicide is so terrible that it can’t be mentioned,” he says.

TikTok did not respond to a request for comment, but its official blog explains: “While we do not allow content that promotes, glorifies, or normalizes suicide, self-harm, or eating disorders, we do support decision makers. share their experiences to raise awareness, help others who may be struggling, and find support among our community. ” It is certainly a difficult balance.

Padmanathan believes that “people have a right to talk about their own experiences in their own words,” but right now it’s unclear how many TikTokers use “non-living” for personal preference and how many would leave the word if they didn’t. worry about censorship. There’s also a question of where this censorship ends: While a “not live” search on TikTok produces countless videos, the #unalive tag is not indexed, meaning it has no results.

Williams values ​​TikTok as a space to talk about mental health; he also likes to look back at his videos to track his recovery and see how far he has come. “I think it’s a good platform to talk about these issues, and there are a lot of people who use the platform to raise awareness,” he says. “But I also think TikTok has limited it by not allowing certain words to be published.”



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