R Franca / EyeEm (right)
A social media influencer in India was arrested after he faked his own death last week.
Irfan Khan, a 28-year-old Instagram and YouTube influencer known by his online username Iffy Khan, made a fake video where he showed himself dying by suicide after a lover rejected him. The graphic video was edited to make viewers believe that Khan died after being hit by a train. Khan posted it on his Instagram, where he has more than 44,000 followers.
“I made it for entertainment purposes. It was a mistake,” Khan told VICE World News over the phone. “My intention was never bad or to encourage people to [die by] suicide.”
After his video was shared by a Twitter user named Binu Varghese, it racked up more than 300,000 views, according to Khan. This quickly caught the attention of the public… and the police.
The police charged Khan under section 336 of the Indian Penal Code, for committing an act to endanger the lives of others and himself, and section 188, for disobedience of order. He was also booked under section 505 (1) for publishing or circulating any statement containing a rumour or alarming news with the intent to incite to commit an offence, and under the Indian Railways Act, for nuisance and trespassing.
“He wanted to go viral, but didn’t have any other content to make,” Shubham Joshi, Khan’s childhood friend who regularly collaborates with him, told VICE World News. “He wanted to make a video to raise awareness against suicide, but the one he made was wrong.”
After his video prompted backlash and led several of his relatives to presume he was dead, Khan decided to delete it.
“People took it the wrong way and thought I was encouraging people to [die by] suicide if a girl rejects them ” he said. “But actually, this was only part one of a video series I was making. In the second part, I would wake up from my dream and see my parents’ faces, and the message was meant to be motivational and tell people not to [die by] suicide.”
Khan is currently awaiting the court’s verdict. He has also issued a public apology. But experts worry that his video could have dire consequences.
“What we’re seeing right now, after COVID-19, is that more people are developing depression and suicidal tendencies,” Dr Seema Hingoranny, a psychologist and trauma expert, told VICE World News. “Lots of people are contemplating about or have a curiosity around suicide, so when they see a video like this, they look at suicide as easy escapism instead of dealing with their dark feelings.”
Khan isn’t the only one who used themes of suicide to go viral. Last month, Armaan Shaikh, another influencer, also faked his own death by pretending to shoot himself with a gun that was actually a lighter.