Social media plays an important role in communicating safely about suicide and its impacts.
Research shows that when social media posts about a suicide death include factors such the method or location of the suicide, there is an increased risk of individuals taking similar action.
This area of concern is exacerbated due to the immediacy of social media and the difficulties in moderating channels.
While most Australians may not be affected by exposure to suicide-related content on social media, it remains important that we support and protect all audiences. This includes those who are bereaved by suicide or have lived and living experience of suicide.
This resource, prepared in partnership with the Mindframe Social Media Advisory Group, builds on the Mindframe guidelines for reporting on suicide. It aims to assist media and communication professionals to make informed choices when moderating and managing social media.
How to use this resource
The following are some helpful points to consider before, during and after engaging with social media. Click on any of the expandable tabs below to read more about each topic.
When developing a social media policy for your organisation, it is important to ensure it refers to the Mindframe language guide. Your policy should include protocols for how public responses will be monitored and managed, and have a generic bank of templated responses to support moderators.
Social media policies should also include cultural considerations. For example, in many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities the depiction, mention or image of a person who has passed away can cause distress. Consult with the families and community members connected to the person who has died by suicide about appropriate language and visuals, and place a content warning on your website, social media page or post. More information relating to culturally sensitive communication is available at The Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention.
It can also be helpful to include reminders to check people’s preferred names, gender identity and pronouns as well as those of their partner before posting online. Only include details about a person’s body, behaviour, gender, or identity if it is relevant, and avoid sensationalising these factors for the sake of perceived public curiosity. If you are unsure about pronouns, use a person’s name or neutral options such as they/them/their. For more information, view LGBTIQ+ Health Australia’s overview of inclusive language.
Tips to improve moderation processes
- Utilise each social media platform’s settings to ensure user-generated comments are approved by a page administrator before becoming visible to the public.
- Include information on whether the organisation that you’re moderating the page for provides a clinical service, moderation hours, and links to relevant support services in the ‘about us’ page.
- Before promoting a prevention campaign or link about suicide, consider if the topic could encourage people to disclose suicidal thoughts. Consider whether your site or social media account will be moderated 24/7 and how quickly action can be taken if needed.
- Arrange adequate training for staff who will be monitoring social media posts or website communications to prepare them for when/if people in distress (i.e. expressions of suicidal thoughts, details of suicide, self-harm etc.) post responses or make contact via the page.
- If possible, invite health professionals to join and/or moderate forums after the report of a suicide to encourage people to seek help.
- News organisations should aim to monitor their social media posts, and the responses to their posts, as closely as they would monitor any other form of their media.
Assess whether a story on suicide is in the public interest, consult your organisational policies and/or seek advice from experts. When sharing information or reposting/re-sharing, be aware that this may be interpreted as an endorsement of the published content.
When researching a story, apply caution when referring to information sourced from social media. Ensure the suicide has been confirmed by an official source (e.g. police/coroner) to avoid speculation and possible interference with ongoing investigations. If a decision is made to share the story on social media, consider posting that the incident is under police investigation and requesting that followers do not post any speculation about the incident.
Also, remember to always acquire appropriate permission from involved parties (e.g. next of kin) before posting anything in a public capacity.
Explicit depictions of suicide methods and locations have been linked to increases in the use of that method or location as well as overall suicide rates. When potentially harmful content is posted on an organisational social media page, it is recommended that moderators consider taking the following steps:
- Hide the post.
- Create a public message explaining its removal and/or commenting on the expected behaviours of the online community.
- Contact the person who posted the comment explaining why the post is being removed and link to the relevant service and Mindframe support services card.
- Consider whether to block, mute or even report the content, as appropriate on a case-by-case basis. Many social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn, provide users with the facility to report problematic suicide-related or cyberbullying content.
For overtly problematic content which indicates someone is in immediate danger, it is also advisable to alert the relevant authorities (e.g. police, ambulance) and provide them with the information you have been given.
The grief of those who have lost a loved one to suicide may be increased when they view information or images of the deceased on social media. The bereaved are at an increased risk of suicide themselves and can sometimes feel confused, upset or even angry about the suicide. It is important to respect the privacy of the deceased’s loved ones at this time.
Resources and support that may be useful include SANE’S Bereavement Guidelines and the Mindframe speaking publicly about suicide resource. Please also consider referring to Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance Journalists’ Code of Ethics on respecting private grief and personal privacy.
Social media managers are advised to avoid promoting online memorials as they may inadvertently glamorise suicide and are often unmoderated. Advising those who set up a public memorial to consider setting limits around the content, location and the length of time an online memorial stays public can reduce potential distress. However, this must be done with respect and sensitivity.
When choosing images to accompany a post on suicide, remember that they can enhance, detract from, or change the meaning of other content. Always ask permission from the family before using images obtained online, particularly those from social media accounts, as the broad circulation of the images may compound their grief.
Images can also support positive or prevention-focused messages in communication. Images that focus on offering or seeking help, for instance, can provide a model to others for how to get through a difficult time. See the Images Matter Guidelines for more information.
When sharing a post about a suicide, take care not to imply that the death was spontaneous or due to a single event as there are usually multiple factors or events contributing to a suicide death. Context and accuracy are important because simplistic explanations and/or speculation can increase the risk of audiences identifying with the situation.
Consider the language used in portraying suicide on social media to avoid causing offence, glamourising, stigmatising or sensationalising suicide or self-harm. Examples of problematic and preferred language are outlined in the Our words matter language guidance cards.
It is also recommended that the Our words matter: Glossary of terms be referenced when communicating about complex topics such as mental health and wellbeing, mental health concerns, self-harm, suicide, eating disorders and alcohol and other drugs (AOD).
The glossary contains terms that are currently in use as well as
terms that are emerging as preferred language, with common definitions,
alternative terms and some guidance on how to use the terms in context.
There is always an opportunity to promote appropriate support services when discussing suicide. Consideration should be made as to how this information will be most visible and effective (e.g. in the body of post, as an image, within a new comment, or pinned). Other considerations include ensuring that the images are accessible to all (e.g. screen readable or with alt text). It may help to consider adding support services information within a video clip itself when posting, as when a link or post is copied (e.g. from YouTube) to another medium, the support services information accompanying the video or original post can sometimes be lost.
It’s important to ensure the support services that are included are contactable 24/7 by telephone and/or online, and are appropriate for the age, gender and demographic of each audience. Read more.
If you are affected by something you’ve come across on social media, consider alerting a manager, talking with someone you trust, or contacting a support service such as an employee assistance program (EAP). More information on support and self-care suggestions is available here.
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner is committed to empowering all Australians to have safer, more positive experiences online. A complete list of members (including Everymind) can be found on the eSafety Online Wellbeing Safety Directory.
A list of helpful social media safety sites can be found at the Office of the eSafety Commissioner website. Office of the eSafety Commissioner website.
Commissioned by Orygen, #chatsafe: A young person’s guide for communicating safely online about suicide supports young people responding to content that relates to suicide and self-harm, looking for information or support for suicidal feelings, or who want to share their own feelings and experiences with suicide and self-harm through their online channels. Visit the Orygen website
The Mindframe Expert Directory connects communication professionals with experienced individuals who can provide commentary across topics relating to suicide, mental ill-health and alcohol and other drugs (AOD) to support safe, responsible and accurate reporting, portrayal and communication about these topics.