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13 Reasons Why: Can a TV Show About Suicide Be ‘Dangerous?’ What are the Moral Obligations of a Producer?
  • Marco Scalvini
Marco Scalvini
Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Erasmus University, Rotterdam

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Abstract

The release of the Netflix’s show 13 Reasons Whycaused significant public concern about the risk of suicide contagion among teenagers – particularly those who have suicidal thoughts. Practitioners and researchers expressed apprehension about the show for its apparent praise of suicide and for allegedly increasing suicide risk among vulnerable teenagers. However, there is a lack of clear evidence for the influence of fictional content on self-harm. Little is known about variations in media effects between news and fiction. The literature focuses mainly on non-fictional media reporting, without making any distinction between individual vulnerability and the type of media portrayal. The present article criticises the assumption that risk of self-harm is reduced by sanitising fictional content. The absence of scientific evidence is precisely why this article re-addresses the problem through an ethical perspective by focusing on the moral responsibility of Netflix in creating graphic content for young adults. Censoring fiction may do more harm than good, but producers have the moral obligation to evaluate in advance the potential impact that such content has on vulnerable people and support viewers as well as parents, educators, practitioners through an adequate campaign of prevention.
Oct 2020Published in Media, Culture & Society volume 42 issue 7-8 on pages 1564-1574. 10.1177/0163443720932502