A substantial amount of evidence indicates that news coverage of suicide deaths by celebrities is followed by an increase in suicide rates, suggesting a copycat behavior. However, the underlying process by which celebrity status and media coverage leads to increases in subsequent suicides is still unclear. This study collected over 1 million individual messages ("tweets") posted on Twitter that were related to 26 prominent figures in Japan who died by suicide between 2010 and 2014 and investigated whether media reports on suicide deaths that generated a greater level of reactions by the public are likely to be followed by a larger increase in actual suicides. We also compared the number of Twitter posts and the number of media reports in newspaper and on television to understand whether the number of messages on Twitter in response to the deaths corresponds to the amount of coverage in the traditional media. Using daily data from Japan's national death registry between 2010 and 2014, our analysis found an increase in actual suicides only when suicide deaths generated a large reaction from Twitter users. In contrast, no discernible increase in suicide counts was observed when the analysis included suicide deaths to which Twitter users did not show much interest, even when these deaths were covered considerably by the traditional media. This study also found suicides by relatively young entertainers generated a large number of posts on Twitter. This sharply contrasts with the relatively smaller volume of reaction to them generated by traditional forms of media, which focuses more on the deaths of non-entertainers. The results of this study strongly suggest that it is not sufficient to examine only traditional news media when investigating the impact of media reports on actual suicides.
Keywords: Celebrity suicide; Imitation; Japan; Media; Social media; Suicide; Twitter.
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