Hello. I'm Patti Bacchus. So pleased to be part of this discussion.
Hello all. I am looking forward to answering your questions.
A question for Patti and Kathleen both. In the age of social media and citizen bloggers, is it realistic to hold media organizations to adhere to guidelines on suicide coverage? And do you think media organizations have behaved differently than social media?
I open traditional media orgs can educate on this issue and maintain higher standard than we might be seeing in social media.
I think there is a big opportunity here for traditional media orgs but also agree social media/bloggers present new challenges.
I saw a real shift in the way traditional media orgs handled the Todd case - that concerns me and I think it warrants some thoughtful discussion about where we go from here.
It is an interesting question. And twofold! So I will answer one at a time. First, it is an issue of "reach" and 'responsibility'. Social media certainly popular, but most people (including youth) still get most of their information from traditional media, whether directly or through links. So traditional media has a larger reach.
Patti what troubled you about the traditional media in the Todd case.
I saw a real departure from past practice and many departures from well-established and generally followed reporting guidelines. ie Front page coverage, photos, repetitive reporting, etc that have been associated with copycat behavior.
Second is 'responsibility'. Social media is populated by individuals who post, some are more ethical than others. But traditional media are organizations who have a role in informing citizens, are already kept to higher standards, and are businesses who make money from coverage. So it is perfectly suitable to consider what is done in the name of news.
I agree Kathleen that traditional media has reach and along with that comes a responsibility to be fair and accurate, but to me the traditional media was sensitive and did not stigmatize or sensationalize her death.
(Readers: feel free to submit your questions and we'll select some to be answered by our invited participants during the hour.)
Yes Kathleen you are absolutely right about the responsibility of the media and its role in a democratic society. And informing people about suicide is a public service as well, again done sensitively and responsibly. There are thousands of suicides each year and it is a serious social and health concern.
I wonder if each of you could chime in on the question of who should have the authority to set guidelines for media coverage of suicides.
That is the point the Van School Board is trying to make. The guidelines describe what to avoid vs what to convey that is in the public interest. These guidelines were not followed in much of the coverage of the Todd case (I'm not referring to G&M) I saw and heard.
Sylvia, I guess it depends what you mean by 'sensationalize'. Media researchers say that a story is senstional (and has the potential for copycat effect) when it does the following: has excessive coverage with photos of the person and grieving family friends; oversimply the causes of the suicide; gives a lot of 'ink' to admiration of the deceased, etc. Many of the news organizations covered it in exactly this way.
Patti let me ask you a bit more about your concerns. Amanda Todd's death was a news story in part because she was brave enough to make a statement on it through youtube. She wanted people to know. So what is wrong with front page coverage. This was an international story and a story that drew attention to bullying and cyber bullying.
I would hope there is voluntary adherence and that there is a collective acceptance of guidelines as there generally has been in the past.
Front page coverage/photos have been associated with an increase in the rate of suicide, particularly among vulnerable youth. That is what is wrong with it. The Todd death was a tragedy - we do not want to see news media coverage contributing to further tragedies.
On Mason's question, I would say each media outlet has the responsibility to apply its guidelines because the public will hold the organization accountable if it fails. Also in our case and others, there are independent press councils which can rule if asked on whether a media organization behaved properly.
Let me add a reader question at this point
Guidelines have been created by suicide and psychiatric experts. It is up to the media organizations whether they wish to adopt them. But I suppose what the School Board has done is urge them to do so.
There is also the risk of providing simplistic answers to a complex problem. Some stories seemed to conclude that bullying directly caused the death. This has not been established.
I'm not suggesting all coverage be suppressed - this issue should be covered, but must be covered responsibly.
I want to answer the reader's question. The solution is not to suppress coverage, but to frame it in a way that limits the effect on other vulnerable youth.
Patti I have not seen the evidence that front page photos or coverage contribute to an increase in the rate of suicide. A show on CBC the Current this morning referred to a World Health Organization study which found that reporting can influence the method rather than the frequency.
Sylvia, a review of over 50 studies of media coverage of suicides researchers found up to 14 times the risk of copycat suicide after extensive media coverage. This is referred to as the ‘contagion effect’. Obviously this effect is only found in cases of people already at risk due to depression or other illnesses. But it is these most vulnerable youth that mental health experts are worried about.
There is a significant body of research linking sensationalized coverage with increased rates of suicide.
Yes to the reader's question. Media coverage, especially responsible media coverage, can help raise awareness of bullying, can tell young people how and where to get help and can show families and friends the warning signs of suicide. It is important to have this discussion
Syliva said it better than I did.
We are hearing anecdotal reports from metro school districts that there was increased suicide ideation among students following news coverage of the Todd case.
There is no evidence that this particular case caused effects at this point. It takes a while to do effects research that is systemic vs. anecdotal.
Patti is there any evidence that students are discussing bullying more and perhaps some attitudes have changed on this?
What research does is look for trends. And the trends are pretty clear. Having said that, both social media and traditional media have the ability to play very positive roles in preventing suicide, if they are used in that way.
Interesting question Syvlia. Do we know how much bullying contributed to the death? Mental health experts caution that there are often other factors - depression, substance abuse etc. There aren't simple answers such as bullying leads to suicide.
Re: reader question on visuals. That is an excellent point. Photos and images are known to be especially problematic. They can create an idealizing effect that gives other at-risk youth a sense that they too could become this media celebrity. Good practives would have small school pictures, and not much else.
Gelister, you are correct that photos are necessary especially online and on television. The appropriate image is that of Amanda and perhaps screen shots from her video. Recommendations which Mason Wright sent to the Globe BC reporting staff in October also discussed avoiding photos showing the local of the death or grieving family members. Mason can you put that link up? It's from an international group of psychiatrists, health care and social workers and journalists.
In response to Gelister - I would prefer to see boxes with info on where to get help etc. vs images of the individual.
I disagree that photos are necessary. If there are putting youth at risk, is it worth it?
Patti this is also an important thing for news media to do and that is to include boxes showing suicide prevention numbers or warning signs, but I see no problem using pictures of Amanda as long as it is not excessive.
Re: Bullying. This case was consistently framed as about bullying. Yes, she was bullied mercilessly. But she was also stalked by an on-line pedophile. Physically assaulted. And struggled with depression. All of these issues need more discussion.