KUALA LUMPUR, May 16 — Instagram executives told Westminster that they were “heartbroken” about the alleged suicide of a 16-year-old Malaysian who had posted a poll on the platform asking if she should die.
BBC reported that officials of the Facebook-owned social media site, however, said it was too soon to decide if they would take any action against the Sarawakian teenager’s followers who had supported her choice to kill herself.
“The news is certainly very shocking and deeply saddening,” Instagram head of product Vishal Shah told British MPs at an inquiry by the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee into immersive and addictive technologies.
“There are cases… where our responsibility around keeping our community safe and supportive is tested and we are constantly looking at our policies.
“We are deeply looking at whether the products, on balance, are matching the expectations that we created them with,” he added.
A 16-year-old girl in Kuching, Sarawak, allegedly killed herself Monday night, just hours after running an Instagram poll where she asked her followers to help her choose between death and life, using the initials “D” and “L”. Over two-thirds, or 69 per cent, reportedly voted “D”.
Instagram head of public policy Karina Newton told UK MPs that the poll would have violated company guidelines.
The photo-sharing platform reportedly has measures to detect “self-harm thoughts” and seeks to remove certain posts while offering support if necessary.
A pop-up appears when a user searches the word “suicide”, offering to put them in touch with organisations that can provide support.
Shah, however, reportedly said the way people expressed mental health issues kept changing.
When the UK Parliament committee chair, Damian Green, asked the two Instagram executives if the company might consider suspending or cancelling the accounts of those who had encouraged the Kuching teenager’s decision to die by suicide, they declined to specify what steps would be taken.
“I hope you can understand that it is just so soon. Our team is looking into what the content violations are,” Newton was quoted saying.
Reuters reported Instagram’s head of communications in the Asia-Pacific, Wong Ching Yee, as saying that the teenager’s Instagram poll, which ran for 24 hours, had actually ended with 88 per cent votes for “L” (life).
Padawan district police chief Aidil Bolhassan told Reuters that the poll’s numbers may have changed after the media reported the girl’s death in Batu Kawa, Padawan.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) told Free Malaysia Today that those who incited the 16-year-old girl to kill herself could face 20 years’ imprisonment under Section 305 of the Penal Code that prohibits abetting a person under 18 years to commit suicide.
“In this matter, MCMC is ready to provide any technical help needed by the police,” MCMC was quoted saying.