Criticism lobbed at social media companies after suicide video of Mississippi man goes viral

Updated: Sep. 9, 2020 at 7:12 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - As video of a Mississippi man taking his own life continues to go viral more than a week after it happened -- despite social media companies' efforts to ban the video -- one of the victim’s friends blames Facebook for not acting fast enough to stop people from copying it.

The man, 33-year-old Ronnie McNutt of New Albany, died August 31 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a Facebook livestream after talking to viewers for more than an hour.

One of McNutt’s friends, Joshua Steen, said someone told him about the Facebook Live after McNutt accidentally fired his rifle during the livestream, an incident that took place about 30 minutes before McNutt killed himself.

“It took maybe 30 seconds to a minute before I realized that I needed to report this livestream to Facebook, like right now," Steen said.

Steen said he reported it at approximately 10 p.m., while McNutt was still alive.

Others also did so before and after the shooting.

Steen got a response nearly two hours later, after hundreds of people had already seen McNutt’s death.

Criticism lobbed at social media companies after suicide video of Mississippi man goes viral
Criticism lobbed at social media companies after suicide video of Mississippi man goes viral(WLBT)

“The initial report that I got was that that video did not go against Facebook’s community standards, and that was pretty alarming,” Steen said.

The post also said the company’s standards “don’t allow things that encourage suicide or self-injury."

It’s unclear if Facebook actually reviewed the portion of video where McNutt took his own life.

The company finally removed the post around three hours after the deadly shooting.

“The video that remained after the stream, according to Facebook’s current standards for some reason, was less offensive than nudity,” Steen said, referring to his observation that pornographic material often gets removed within minutes on the site.

More than a week later, those unfortunate last few moments of McNutt’s life can still be found all over social media, shared through almost every platform, including TikTok, which has a lot of users under the age of 18.

Steen believes Facebook in particular is directly responsible for the spread of this video because he maintains the company could have done something about it.

“There are documented reports of Facebook intervening in these situations while they’re happening in real-time,” Steen said. “If Facebook had intervened 10 minutes after I made the initial report, this is not a situation we’re discussing. This is not a situation where a video is spread virally from Facebook to websites, intercut into videos on TikTok. It just doesn’t exist."

Steen said this incident illustrates the role of social media companies have in protecting those who use the service.

This week, Steen started a campaign titled #ReformForRonnie, which calls on these companies to actively accept responsibility and ownership for what people post, respond more quickly, and take action against those who violate their policies.

“[This] is a red flag, especially as we go into election season that these social media networks say that they’re monitoring these channels for misinformation, we’re monitoring these channels for abuse, we’re monitoring these channels for threats and harassment, but are they? Because the actuality shows us that they’re not," Steen said.

3 On Your Side reached out to Facebook for a response to these allegations, but the company has not yet done so.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

Full disclosure: the author of this article was friends with Ronnie McNutt.

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