Instagram: Stopping suicidal postings is a challenge

The teenage girl commit suicide after 69% of her followers voted D.

By Huzraifah Atikah and Nadhirah Sofea

Instagram has measures in place to detect ‘self-harm thoughts’ and seeks to remove certain posts but it is hampered by those with new and different terms in their postings.  

For instance, if a user searches for the word ‘suicide’, a pop-up appears which offers to put them in touch with organisations that can help.

“But the thing is the way people expressed mental-health issues was constantly evolving, posing a challenge,” said the head of product at Instagram, Vishal Shah.

Earlier this week, a 16-year-old Sarawakian girl committed suicide after posting a poll on Instagram, asking her followers whether she should live or die.

However, on her IG Story she only wrote D/L for her followers to choose from.

According to the Instagram's head of public policy Karina Newton, if the answer on the poll was written as ‘death' or 'live’, it would have violated the company's guidelines and it would been removed immediately.

Instagram executives have said they are heartbroken over the incident with its communications head Ching Yee Wong saying their thoughts and prayers were with the girl's family.

“We have a deep responsibility to make sure people using Instagram feel safe and supported. As part of our own efforts, we urge everyone to use our reporting tools and to contact emergency services if they see any behaviour that puts people’s safety at risk,” he said. 

The Instagram chiefs were questioned about the matter in Westminster, London.

BBC reported Shah saying the news was certainly very shocking and deeply saddening. 

"There are cases... where our responsibility around keeping our community safe and supportive is tested and we are constantly looking at our policies. 

"And if, in cases like the polling sticker, we are finding more evidence where it is not matching the expectations... we are looking to see whether we need to make some of those policy changes."

However, Instagram company's leaders said it was too soon to say if they would take any action against account holders who took part in the vote.

READ: So who are those who voted for Death in the IG suicide poll?

Meanwhile, Communication and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo says Putrajaya may amend laws governing the Internet usage to tackle cyberbullying after the death of the Sarawakian girl.

Gobind said he has asked the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to work together with the police on this. 

“I feel we have to be very, very careful when it comes to matters like this. I think it is a serious matter where social media is being used in a manner which can endanger the lives of certain people.

“I think at the same time, we also want to look at how the Communications and Multimedia Act could perhaps be tweaked to deal with problems like this,” he said.

The MCMC through its Facebook page urged the community to be more sensitive to suicidal postings on social media. 

Last Monday, the 16-year-old girl committed suicide after conducting an online poll on her Instagram account at about 3 pm, with the question: "Really Important, Help Me Choose D/L". 

Based on an explanation by her close friend, it is believed that D is referred to as ‘Death’, while L refers to ‘Live’. The poll result showed that 69% voted for Death and only 31% voted for Live.

She had also posted in her Facebook account saying: "Wanna Quit F**king Life I'm Tired".

This devastating incident has become an eye-opener not just to Malaysia but to all the people around the world on how dangerous social media can be. 

Yesterday, 'D and L' was trending on Twitter where netizens questioned the need to charge the 69% voters for involuntary manslaughter. 

If you guys need help, don't be afraid to call Befrienders, a suicide helpline that offers free and confidential support for 24 hours a day via 03-79568145.