“13 Reasons Why” is a Netflix television series based on the 2007 novel “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher. A high school student receives a box containing 13 cassette tapes recorded by his friend Hannah Baker, before she committed suicide. The show has been a critical and popular success (although the Times didn’t like it much) , and a second season is planned.
But Researcher John Ayers of San Diego State University has studied the results of the show on the culture by monitoring discussions of suicide on the internet following the debut of “13 Reasons Why.” The phrases “how to commit suicide” and “commit suicide” have experienced a 26% and 18% increase in searches. Ayers sees no other explanation for this other than the show. Searches for the phrase “suicide hotline number” also jumped, by 21%
Ayers now says, “Our worst fears were confirmed That is, thousands of people, thousands more, are searching online about ways to kill themselves.”
Ayers wants the first season to be re-edited to discourage suicidal behavior, and argues that the second season should be postponed. “Psychiatrists have expressed grave concerns because the show ignores the World Health Organization’s validated media guidelines for preventing suicide. The show’s staff instead continue to prefer their gut instincts,” Ayers says.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is this head-scratcher…
Is it ethical for Netflix to continue running the series in light of Ayers’ research and recommendations?
I’m not 100% certain (when I’m certain, I don’t make the topic a quiz), but my inclination is to say yes. Not only that, I think it would be an unethical precedent to pull it.
Google searches aren’t destiny. I’m certain that searches involving zombies went way up after AMC’s “The Walking Dead” first started wreaking its carnage. I’m old enough to remember when the Catholic Church and anti-TV violence activists argued that shows like “The Untouchables” were turning kids into murderous juvenile delinquents, and when their campaigns to pull “Superman” off the air because a couple of boys jumped out of windows trying to fly—or so it was rumored—even that non-violent program was threatened. Not a single teen suicide has been linked to the “13 Reasons” book or the series. Now the door is open for the “if it saves only one life” rationalization.
I think Ayers has hit on a way to make a publicity splash, especially in a culture that increasingly is being told that censorship and suppression of speech and expression are solutions to all kinds of ills, and in a society that has a major party increasingly willing to call mere speech dangerous.