July 6, 2020

Research shows news articles following suicide prevention best practices get more engagement on Facebook

By: Moira Burke

A new study published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examines how news stories on Facebook adhere to suicide reporting guidelines and their engagement on the platform. Led by CDC researchers with support of Facebook researchers, the report is part of the CDC’s work to understand the impact of safe suicide-reporting on social media.

Key findings include the following:

  • More than half (60%) of the most-shared news articles about suicide did not include any protective information, such as a suicide prevention helpline or public health resources.
  • The majority of articles included harmful elements that go against suicide reporting guidelines, such as explicitly reporting the name of the person who died (60%), featuring the word “suicide” prominently in the headline (59%), and publicizing details about the location (55%) or method (50%).
  • When news articles followed more of the suicide prevention guidelines, they got more engagement on Facebook. Each additional guideline followed is associated with a 19% increase in the odds of an article being reshared.

Leading suicide prevention organizations and health authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have created guidelines for news organizations to cover suicide more responsibly, such as those presented on reportingonsuicide.org. Their goal is to reduce sensationalism around suicide and prevent exposure to content that may trigger vulnerable people, such as providing a description of the method used or the location where it took place. The guidelines also recommend including resources for people in crisis, such as suicide helplines. See the full report here.