Is the TikTok algorithm changing the way people talk about suicide?

Many people surveyed expressed concern about avoiding the word “suicide” altogether. One participant said avoiding the word was “dangerous” and “isolating,” while another said, “My brother committed suicide and my sister attempted suicide. I don’t think we should be afraid to use this word.”

“Overall, respondents expressed a preference for terms that are perceived as factual, clear, descriptive, commonly used, non-emotional, non-stigmatizing, respectful and validating,” Padmanathan said.Further research is needed to determine whether “no life” might be stigmatized, but she noted that words can and do influence how we think about suicide, citing Learning in 2018.

The study, led by communication scientists at the University of Munich, presented participants with news reports about suicide that were identical except for the words used to describe the suicide itself. Some reports included the neutral German term “Suizid” (suicide), while others used the more problematic terms “Freitod” (free death) and “Selbstmord” (self-murder). The study found that people were more likely to subsequently use the words they read, and that people’s attitudes toward suicides they read did vary by the words in the article.

Such research is crucial because, Padmanathan points out, the words we use can Determine if people seek help for their problems. Without controlled studies, it is impossible to know the effect of “inanimateness” on people’s access to resources. Whether euphemisms perpetuate stigma is unclear, Padmanathan said — in her 2019 study, some participants thought euphemisms underestimated suicide, while others believed euphemisms in some cases preferable.

However, Deborah Tennan, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, expressed concern when asked about “no life.” “Coming up with alternative or roundabout ways to express things to avoid saying them outright sends a message that meaning is unspeakable,” Tannen said. She cited the term “pro-choice”: “On the surface this means pro-choice, but avoiding the word ‘abortion’ helps to stigmatize it,” she said.

Not all alternatives to “suicide” are stigmatizing, Tannen said — she believes “suicide” is still clear enough to avoid stigma. But she often scrutinizes a word’s “meta-information”—a meaning that doesn’t exist in the word itself but can be determined from how the word is expressed or its context. “You could say that banning the word ‘suicide’ sends a meta-message that suicide is so horrific that it can’t be mentioned,” she said.

TikTok did not respond to a request for comment, but its Official Blog “While we don’t allow content that promotes, glorifies or regulates suicide, self-harm or eating disorders, we do support those who choose to share their experiences to raise awareness, help those who may be struggling and find support in our community,” explained .” It’s certainly a tough balance.

Padmanathan argues that “people have the right to talk about their experiences in their own words” — but it’s unclear how many TikTokers use “inactive” out of personal preference, and if not, how many would drop the term for fear of censorship. There’s also the question of where this censorship ends — while a search for “unlive” on TikTok yields countless videos, the hashtag #unlive isn’t indexed, meaning it yields zero results.

Williams sees TikTok as a space to talk about mental health — she also likes to review her videos to track her recovery and see how far she has come. “I think it’s a good platform to talk about these kinds of topics, and a lot of people use the platform to raise awareness,” she said. “But I also think TikTok is limiting that by not allowing certain texts to be posted.”

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