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Facebook Warned Moderators About 13 Reasons Why “Copycat Behavior,” According to Leaked Documents

Moderators were instructed to flag posts about the show for senior managers over fears of “copycat behavior.”

Beth Dubber/Netflix

On Sunday, the Guardian published memos about Facebook’s internal moderation guidelines that reveal how the social network’s moderators are instructed to handle reports of everything from fake news to sexual harassment to terrorism. The obtained leaked documents include information about how the site deals with posts about self-harm or suicide, with at least one guideline specific to the Netflix high school drama 13 Reasons Why. Moderators were reportedly told to alert senior managers about content related to the show, which tells the story of a student who kills herself and leaves behind cassette tapes for those she considers responsible for her death, for extra consideration:

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The Guardian has been told concern within Facebook about the way people are using the site has increased in the last six months.

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For instance, moderators were recently told to “escalate” to senior managers any content related to 13 Reasons Why—a Netflix drama about the suicide of a high school student—because of fears it could inspire copycat behavior.

Prevention experts have expressed concern that 13 Reasons Why paints an unrealistic, romanticized portrait of suicide, fails to meaningfully address mental health or provide adequate resources for those watching, and includes a scene that graphically depicts a suicide, among other criticisms. Studies show that these factors can create the risk of suicide contagion—the “copycat behavior” referenced above—particularly in adolescents.

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Mark Zuckerberg announced earlier this month that Facebook would be adding 3,000 new moderators in response to an increase in livestreams and videos of people harming themselves and others on the site. According to the Guardian’s report, employees are instructed to contact appropriate agencies for a “welfare check” on users who are attempting or seem about to attempt suicide, while no action is taken on threats of self-harm that are unlikely to succeed, expressed only through hashtags or emoticons, or that threaten to take place more than five days in the future.

The fact that 13 Reasons Why is mentioned by name in these memos reflects the show’s widespread popularity and notoriety, particularly on social media, as well as the serious concerns raised by the way it handles its subject matter. At least one school district has reported an increase in self-harm and at-risk behavior over the past few months that has been attributed to 13 Reasons Why. The show has already been picked up for a second season.

If you need to talk, or if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273- 8255.

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