TikTok Posted Video of a Suicide, Then Protected Itself Before Notifying Authorities

Joao, a 19-year-old from Parana in southern Brazil, sent ominous warnings to fans just days before he live-streamed his suicide. The video, which aired on 21 February 2019, stayed live for an hour and a half.

It took two hours for TikTok officials to become aware of the video. The company, instead of calling the police, immediately started to come up with a public relations plan to cover themselves when media got wind of it.

The company ultimately waited almost three hours to notify authorities. Instead of calling the police, they got their press statement ready – that was never released – and took absolutely no responsibility for their subsequent actions. TikTok officials took extensive steps to make sure that the story didn’t go viral, keeping an eye on other social media platforms to see if it had spread.

A former TikTok employee in Brazil said that they were told to remain anonymous.

Suicide Videos on Social Media Platforms

Unfortunately, Joao is not the first person to show their death on TikTok, however, he is the first person to live-stream it. At least two other suicides have occurred on the app in India, and a judge in India even put a ban on TikTok, which was ultimately lifted again.

Other social media networks, like Twitter and Facebook, have strategies in place to deal with sensitive material like suicide videos.

They even have partnerships with the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and as well as a support system for users, they have teams that they employ to focus on keeping an open line of communication between the platform and authorities.

Companies don’t have a legal obligation to deal with troubling or offensive content, however, as is evident with Twitter and Facebook, many social media channels have strategies in place.

TikTok Does Have Moderators

Brazil saw 18 million downloads of TikTok in 2018, making it one of the largest markets for the newest social media craze. TikTok has even hired Brazilian celebrities to promote the platform and act as an influencer.

Their Brazil offices have a team of moderators, and this is the only team that works in isolation. The team is tasked with things like banning and removing content that violates TikTok’s terms of use guidelines, and monitoring content that already comes with a warning.

No Media Coverage of the Suicide Video

Interestingly, to this day, there has been no media coverage of Joao’s live-streamed suicide, which means that TikTok has never had to use their PR statement. Awareness of the case, in general, is still restricted to employees, and TikTok has never had to answer for their actions following the live stream of the suicide video.

The most poignant part of the entire story is that Joao’s suicide hasn’t affected the company’s image in any way, shape, or form.

If you or someone you know is in need of help, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline directly. They are available 24/7.

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1 thought on “TikTok Posted Video of a Suicide, Then Protected Itself Before Notifying Authorities”

  1. Just earlier this morning, I was scrolling through my twitter timeline and came across a Tik Tok video that had been reposted on the site. It consisted of a man walking up behind a seated woman and cutting her hair off with a pair of scissors as part of a “prank.” Over the last few years, I have seen too many videos composed of the same type of content where harmful pranks are made to seemingly unsuspecting victims. The rise of pranks that revolve around the subject matter of cheating on one’s partner, using a severe phobia against someone and making loved ones believe one has committed suicide has drastically risen for entertainment and views, while ignoring the harmful emotional side effects. Even as a viewer myself, I am disgusted by some videos that are made for entertainments sake.

    Upon reading this article, I wondered if video hosting websites like tik tok and YouTube had better filtration and monitoring of content, would something like this have even been allowed through in the first place? While some may argue that this may fall within the realm of privacy issues and regulating the public sphere, I truly think it is for the greater good that stricter and in-depth monitoring be done to keep people out of harm’s way. The more harmful pranks are allowed, the more desensitized the viewers become to the essential bullying of others. In 2019, following the release of the film Bird Box, a new internet challenge was created dubbed the “ Bird Box Challenge” that dared users to maneuver the world blindly (driving blindly for instance), putting them in harms way. YouTube introduced new guidelines but I still do not think they are enough. There are many ways to harm others than through physical means. There are a lot of emotionally abusive pranks that can leave people in a state of trauma for a long period of time. However, why would YouTube ban a genre of videos that rakes in a lot of views and ultimately makes the corporation money? I also wonder if this business model is even sustainable.

    The fact that a young man took his own life on a video and the disturbing imagery was left on the website for hours afterwards is very upsetting. The fact that this news stayed out of most mainstream news is even more upsetting. According to another in-depth article, some Tik Tok users even made gruesome jokes about him in the comments section after he had already committed suicide. This shows desensitization over someone’s death and that is absolutely horrific.
    Upon reading this article however, unfortunately it did not come as a shock to me that Tik Tok’s first response was to build a PR strategy than to call for emergency services. Large business corporations care more about their brand and reputation over everything else, which is what can be taken away from this article. Who needs to get involved to create stricter policies? The Public? Healthcare professionals? And are the voices loud enough to create a change? These are all questions I’m left with after this read.

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