The release of the Netflix’s show 13 Reasons Why caused 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 criticizes the assumption that risk of self-harm is reduced by sanitizing fictional content. The absence of definite scientific evidence is precisely why this article re-addresses the problem through an ethical perspective by focusing on the moral responsibility of Netflix. Censoring fiction may do more harm than good, but producers have the responsibility to evaluate in advance the potential impact that such content has on vulnerable people, and to support viewers as well as parents, educators, and practitioners through an adequate campaign of prevention.

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Media, Culture & Society
Erasmus University Rotterdam

Scalvini, M.S. (2020). 13 Reasons Why: can a TV show about suicide be ‘dangerous’? What are the moral obligations of a producer?. Media, Culture & Society. doi:10.1177/0163443720932502