Since Sunday evening, TikTok has been trying to stop the spread of a graphic video showing a man committing suicide with a gun (via The Verge). The clip opens with an image of a gray-bearded man sitting in front of his desk. The seemingly innocuous nature of the video's start and its appearance in TikTok's For You feed, which automatically surfaces content based on a person's interests, has led to people accidentally exposing themselves to the clip. TikTok has tried to stop the video from circulating by banning the accounts of people who try to re-upload it multiple times.
"Our systems have been automatically detecting and flagging these clips for violating our policies against content that displays, praises, glorifies, or promotes suicide," a spokesperson for the company said. "We are banning accounts that repeatedly try to upload clips, and we appreciate our community members who've reported content and warned others against watching, engaging, or sharing such videos on any platform out of respect for the person and their family."
The episode highlights a significant weakness of TikTok's algorithm. While all social networks have had, to some extent, trouble moderating their platforms, TikTok's recommendation engine makes it difficult for the company to prevent content like this from spreading altogether. The TikTok community has tried to protect itself by sharing content warnings, telling their followers to avoid the video if it shows up on their For You feed. People have also shared the video on Twitter and Instagram after it was originally streamed over Facebook Live.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), some 45,000 Americans die from suicide each year. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.