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The Internet

A Suicide Goes Viral On the Internet 566

Hugh Pickens writes "Will Oremus reports that Fox News showed a grisly spectacle Friday afternoon during a live car chase when the suspect got out of his car, stumbled down a hillside, pulled a gun, and shot himself in the head. As the scene unfolded, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith grew increasingly apprehensive, then yelled 'get off it, get off it!,' belatedly urging the show's producers to stop the live feed as it became obvious the man was going to do something rash. Fox News cut awkwardly to a commercial just after showing his death and after Fox aired the on-air suicide, Smith apologized to viewers, saying, 'We really messed up.' However BuzzFeed immediately posted the footage on YouTube, where it garnered more than 1,000 'likes' in under an hour, sparking immediate blowback. 'Who's worse? @FoxNews for airing the suicide, or @BuzzFeed for re-posting the video just in case you missed it the first time?' posted the Columbia Journalism Review. Gawker's Hamilton Nolan called his site's decision to post the video 'ethical,' because 'it is news' but research suggests that graphic depictions of suicide in the media can spur copycat suicides, especially among young people, and the World Health Organization's guidelines warn against sensationalizing it. Virtually everyone who has studied it agrees that, at a minimum, suicides should be covered with a modicum of sensitivity and context (PDF). 'Of course it's news that Fox News accidentally aired the video. And you can make a good case that Fox was inviting this type of debacle with its habit of airing live car-chase feeds. But Fox couldn't have known that it was about to air a suicide. BuzzFeed, by contrast, knew exactly what it was doing,' writes Oremus. 'That might be good business for BuzzFeed, but it's hard to see the benefit for anyone else.'"

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