TikTok Has A Suicide Problem
On TikTok, Suicide Prevention Month began in the most traumatic way possible: A video of a man named Ronnie McNutt dying by suicide appeared on unsuspecting users’ For You pages. While a handful of creators stepped up with resources to help viewers cope with the footage until TikTok was able to delete it, it was just one of a number of suicide-related incidences that have plagued the app in the past few days.
Earlier this week, a rumor spread that an 11-year-old boy had attempted suicide after the hashtag “#killallmen” became popular on the app. There’s no official source for the alleged incident besides tweets referring to it, and TikTok did not respond to a request for more information. However, another suicide rumor was debunked only yesterday, this time by popular user Chase Hudson.
Drama accounts like TikTokRoom noticed fans commenting on Hudson’s videos with well wishes, all appearing to believe the 18-year-old had attempted suicide. They were also commenting on videos posted by fellow Hype House member Avani Gregg, who they credit with “saving” Hudson. According to Hudson, none of this is true.
“I did not try to kill myself,” he tells the camera in a TikTok posted on Thursday evening. “I’m just a sad person. I’m not suicidal.”
Something like this could be written off as a misguided and troubling one-off—had the same thing not happened with Bryce Hall a few weeks earlier. After the TikTokker’s electricity was shut off due to pandemic partying, his videos were filled with comments pretending he had died, telling him to rest in peace.
“What’s up with this trend saying I’m dead and won’t be missed/already forgotten...wtf is wrong with some people?” he tweeted. “Hating something is something but wishing death upon someone is never okay c’mon...these comments can hurt anyone.”
The Ronnie McNutt video, rumor about the 11-year-old, and Chase Hudson comments are not isolated incidents. Suicide has become a trend on TikTok. Showing it, joking about it, falsifying it. Right now, the app is not a safe place for survivors or those suffering from suicidal thoughts, despite TikTok’s best intentions. This is particularly disappointing, because it’s happening during a month when sensitivity and resources should be rampant.
People like Hudson are attempting to counter the narrative by encouraging fans to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), but what can TikTok itself do? What it’s done so far has only hurt. Shortly after Hudson’s video went up, TikTok removed the audio from the video, likely because it picked up on the fact that Hudson talked about suicide. However, it was the one thing debunking the rumors in the comments, allowing the misinformation to continue. It has since been re-added.
Do mass commenting campaigns pretending someone has died count as targeted harassment? Written out as a sentence, it sure seems like they should, but in the case of creators like Hudson, it’s hard to know who is purposefully spreading misinformation and who is genuinely caught up in the fear that it might be true. As potential misinformation catches on, an app like TikTok could stop it in its tracks by limiting comments and shares until they can get to the bottom of it, but the real problem is the instinct to spread it in the first place—something no algorithm can solve.
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.
This piece has been updated.