- Two Instagram executives appeared before a UK parliamentary committee on Wednesday.
- They were grilled by lawmakers about the case of a Malaysian teenager, who reportedly died by suicide after posting a poll on Instagram asking people to choose whether she should live or die.
- The executives said the incident was “heartbreaking” and confirmed that the poll itself was in violation of Instagram’s community standards.
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Two high-ranking Instagram executives sat before a UK parliamentary committee on “immersive and addictive technologies” on Wednesday. The same day, news broke that a 16-year-old Malaysian girl died by suicide after posting a poll onto Instagram asking if she should live or die.
Local police said the unnamed teenager killed herself after 69% of respondents to the poll chose death. Damian Collins, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, opened the questioning by asking about the news.
“The news is certainly very shocking and deeply saddening, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the young woman in Malaysia,” said Vishal Shah, Instagram’s head of product.
Instagram’s head of public policy Karina Newton added that the reports were “absolutely heartbreaking.” She said the poll itself was in contravention of Instagram’s community guidelines, which forbid the promotion of suicide.
Read more: Facebook is dialling up punishments for users who abuse live video after the Christchurch massacre
Collins pressed the executives on whether the company would take any action against the users who took part in the poll, but they said it was too early to say and the investigation into the girl’s death was ongoing.
“We are actually deeply looking at whether the products, on balance, are matching the expectations that we created them with,” Shah said.
“If in cases like the polling sticker we are finding more evidence that it is not matching the expectations or the creative guidelines by which we created them we are looking at whether we need to make some of those policy changes, like we’ve done with Live more recently.”
Facebook announced on Wednesday it was stepping up the punishments for users abusing its live streaming feature following the Christchurch massacre, which was broadcast on Facebook by the attacker.
Earlier on Wednesday, Wong Ching Yee, Instagram’s head of communications in the Asia-Pacific, told Reuters that the poll actually ended up with 88% of votes in favor of the teenager living, or “L” as it was described. Police said this may have changed, however, after news of her death spread around the world.
Instagram’s treatment of suicide and self-harm came under close scrutiny in February following the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell in UK. Russell’s family found that she’d been engaging with numerous Instagram accounts featuring images of self-harm and suicide, and in response, Instagram banned all graphic images of self-harm on its platform.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations. If you are based in the UK, the Samaritans helpline is available 24/7 on 116 123.
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