Teen’s death following Instagram poll could have been avoided, says expert

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The death of a teenager in Padawan could have been avoided if there was an alert mechanism to notify concerned parties of suicidal postings on social media platforms.

Senior consultant paediatrician Datuk Dr Amar Singh HSS said it was also important to have safeguards within the software of social media platforms.

“There must be an alert system. When I see such a post, there has to be a way I can call up and contact somebody quickly who can then reach out (to the victim) physically and offer help. Just over the phone is not enough,” Dr Amar said.

“There must be some network to access this person (the victim). There must be some safeguards within social media too.”

Dr Amar’s views come after a teenager is believed to have fallen to her death from the third floor of a shoplot building in Batu Kawa at about 8pm on Monday.

The 16-year-old girl had posted an online poll on her Instagram account five hours earlier. The poll read: “Really Important, Help Me Choose D/L”. It is believed ‘D’ was for death while ‘L’ was live.

Sixty-nine per cent had voted for ‘D’.

The teen had also allegedly posted “Wanna Quit F**king Life I’m Tired” on her Facebook account. Her body was found on the street by her brother who was on his way home after dinner with their mother.

The victim was apparently disappointed with her stepfather, who is working in Singapore, as he had not returned to Kuching often after marrying a Vietnamese woman.

Dr Amar said this is not a problem peculiar to Malaysia but is seen elsewhere too.

“Social media aside, if someone was atop a building wanting to jump, often the crowd might say ‘jump, jump, jump’.

“It would be nice to think that some people may say ‘hey don’t do this’, but I don’t think that’s realistic. There must be an alert system.

“Of course we can post online and gather our friends to lobby quickly by voting in the right direction (in reference to the poll) but I still think something has to be done physically.

He added that society is becoming “undeveloped” in many ways.

“I remember chatting with my friends, doing many things, where we discussed stuff. There was extended societal family that supported us, not just our immediate family.

“We think we are more connected by electronic means but we are largely disconnected by personal means. We need another person (by our side). Getting 1,000 likes on Instagram or one million people following you is insufficient.”

He added the personal touch was important and that families these days are generally connected through food.

“Spend more time by just going out, being together. It plays a big role.

“The government can help by providing more green lungs or options that allow people to gather … not the archaic type of town halls but a meeting ground for people to connect.”

He added comments online are now “opinion makers”.

Facebook had earlier this year said it was “deeply sorry” after 14-year-old Molly Russel, who committed suicide in 2017, had viewed disturbing content about suicide on social media.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, said graphic content on self-harm and suicide “has no place on our platform”.

Molly’s father, Ian Russel, told BBC “I have no doubt that Instagram helped kill my daughter”.

In a statement, Instagram said it “does not allow content that promotes or glorifies self-harm or suicide and will remove content of this kind.”

Instagram provides a list of groups for those who have thoughts about suicide or inflicting self-injury in its Help Centre page.

If you have been affected by self-harm or emotional distress, contact Befrienders at +603-79568144/ 8145 (24 hours).