On Sunday night, a clip of a man sitting at a desk and taking his own life started circulating on TikTok, as the platform struggled to contain the spread.
As reported by several outlets, the man was 33-year-old Ronnie McNutt, an Iraq vet living in Mississippi. The death apparently happened Aug. 31 on a Facebook live stream, but over the weekend, clips of the horrific act spread to other platforms like TikTok.
A TikTok spokesperson told the Daily Dot: "Our systems, together with our moderation teams, have been detecting and removing these clips for violating our policies against content that displays, praises, glorifies, or promotes suicide." The company said it's also "banning accounts that repeatedly try to upload clips," and that creators have reported re-uploads, but content spreads so quickly—and covertly—on TikTok that keeping up proved difficult.
As the Verge reported, clips of the suicide were edited into what appeared to be harmless TikToks, startling and traumatizing viewers, some of them very young. TikTok's For You page recognizes content that seems to be popular, which means it was shown to more users before moderation teams started flagging and removing videos. In its statement, TikTok added: "If anyone in our community is struggling with thoughts of suicide or concerned about someone who is, we encourage them to seek support, and we provide access to hotlines directly from our app and in our Safety Center."
Screengrabs of the beginning of the video, showing a bearded man with glasses sitting at a desk, also started circulating, warning others that if they saw the image, to click away. To avoid potentially seeing the clip, many users said they deleted TikTok, though it's spread to Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram too. Josh Steen, a friend of McNutt's, told Heavy that Facebook is "directly responsible" for the spread of the video. He claimed the live stream, which was longer than the clip that's circulating, was reported to Facebook on Aug. 31, while McNutt was still alive, as concerned friends attempted to contact him during the stream. Steen told Heavy the video was finally removed hours after his death, but not before a private Facebook group reposted it.
Steen is also pushing for tech companies to take more responsibility for what its users publish, under the hashtag #ReformForRonnie: "From disinformation campaigns to mental health awareness, these companies must do more," he wrote on Twitter.