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Research Trends

The Relationship Between Suicide-Related Twitter Events and Suicides in Ontario From 2015 to 2016

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1027/0227-5910/a000684

Abstract.Background: Many studies have demonstrated suicide contagion through mainstream journalism; however, few have explored suicide-related social media events and their potential relationship to suicide deaths. Aims: To determine whether Twitter events were associated with changes in subsequent suicides. Methods: Suicide-related Twitter events that garnered at least 100 tweets originating in Ontario, Canada (July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016) were identified and characterized as putatively "harmful" or "innocuous" based on recommendations for responsible media reporting. The number of suicides in Ontario during the peak of each Twitter event and the subsequent 6 days ("exposure window") was compared with suicides occurring during a pre-event period of the same length ("control window"). Results: There were 17 suicide-related Twitter events during the period of study (12 putatively harmful and five putatively innocuous). The number of tweets per event ranged from 121 for "physician-assisted suicide law in Quebec" to 6,202 for the "Attawapiskat suicide crisis." No significant relationship was detected between Twitter events and actual suicides. Notably, a comprehensive examination of the details of Twitter events showed that even the putatively harmful events lacked many of the characteristics commonly associated with contagion. Limitations: This was an uncontrolled experiment in only one epoch and a single Canadian province. Discussion: This study found no evidence of suicide contagion associated with Twitter events. This finding must be interpreted with caution given the relatively innocuous content of suicide-related Tweets in Ontario during 2015–2016.

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