Sat, Dec 30, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Suicides require responsible reporting

By Chen Ying-yeh and Chang Shu-sen 陳映燁、張書森

The suicide of Kim Jong-hyun — the lead singer of South Korean boy group SHINee — has attracted massive media attention in Taiwan. Kim’s suicide note was made public and media reports portrayed Kim as someone who received little help to address the depression he was suffering from, and someone who left a deep impression on others following his death.

Everything from the publication of his suicide note, to the media’s glorification of his death, is clearly in violation of the principles of how to report on a suicide.

Even more regrettable is that the widespread circulation of Kim’s suicide in online media created a massive response.

Several days later, Taiwanese actor Kai Ko (柯震東) sparked another media frenzy by releasing a suspected suicidal post on Instagram.


Our past research has found that celebrity suicides often result in a “copycat effect” that leads to an increase in the number of suicides, because young people, patients suffering from depression and other high-risk groups are easily influenced by such reports on celebrity suicides.

Since fans of entertainers are mostly young people, when they encounter frustration in their lives, it is perhaps easier for them to follow in the steps of their idols.

Besides, young people often communicate with the outside world through social media. With parts of the cyberworld being filled with news about celebrity suicides, it makes young people more likely to consider committing suicide if they do not receive the care and concern they need.

Furthermore, our past research also found that reports about committing suicide by burning coal briquettes could trigger searches for this method on the Internet, which implies that a small number of people in high-risk groups might therefore choose to end their lives in the same way.

When the number of online searches for keywords related to committing suicide by burning coal briquettes increases by about 10 percent, it causes the rate of suicide by this method to increase by about 4 percent during the following two weeks.

Observations on Google Trends show that the number of searches for coal briquette burning has surged on Google in Taiwan since Kim’s death. This data shows how lethal news of celebrity suicides can be due to the influence of the Internet.


The general public should be on high alert regarding this issue and pay more attention to whether people around them are having emotional problems. They should then show concern and help those people to seek medical help.

Furthermore, we should never share posts related to celebrity suicides. The simple click of a button could possibly be the straw that breaks the back of someone considering suicide.

Finally, it is hoped that reporters and editors at media outlets will reduce news coverage of celebrity suicides, so that they quickly disappear from the news flow.

They should think carefully about the wording, photos and videos they use in their reports, because such information is likely to remain online for quite some time, which could have a long-term impact on young people.

Chen Ying-yeh is an attending psychiatrist and adjunct professor at National Yang-Ming University. Chang Shu-sen is an associate professor at the College of Public Health at National Taiwan University.

Translated by Eddy Chang

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