Facebook Refused to Take Down a Live-Streamed Suicide. Now It's All Over TikTok

Facebook said the graphic video didn't violate its Community Standards and waited hours to remove it. By then, it was too late.
September 8, 2020, 12:24pm
Niall Carson/PA Wire URN:55157879 (Press Association via AP Images)

A video of a Mississippi man taking his own life — which was originally live-streamed on Facebook —  has gone viral on TikTok with children as young as 13 being exposed to the shocking footage.

TikTok has said it is proactively working to block the spread of the footage and ban those who upload it, but users are finding workarounds to continue to share the video.

The footage was originally broadcast on Facebook Live on August 31, when Ronnie McNutt, 33, an Army veteran, took his own life.  Facebook initially refused to remove the video, saying it did not breach the company’s own Community Standards.

McNutt, who served in Iraq, and was suffering from PTSD and had recent relationship troubles, according to his friend Josh Steen.

Steen, who recorded a podcast with McNutt, told Heavy that someone contacted him on the evening of August 31 to say his friend had begun a live stream and had accidentally fired a gun.

Steen tuned in and saw that McNutt was drunk and rambling. He immediately flagged the live stream to Facebook while McNutt was still alive, but received no reply. Steen also contacted the police, who watched the live stream while standing outside McNutt’s apartment.

McNutt died by suicide at 10.30 pm, but it wasn’t until 11.51 pm that Steen received a response from Facebook, saying the video did not breach the company’s Community Standards and would not be removed, according to a screenshot Steen shared with Heavy.

Facebook told VICE News it removed the video “shortly” after it was posted, but would not comment on why it initially said the video did not breach its Community Standards.

Steen said it wasn’t until after 1 am that the video was finally removed from the platform, but by that point, it was too late.

Additionally, Steen said McNutt’s own Facebook page has been flooded with comments, many of which include links to the suicide video and memes or images showing McNutt’s death. Steen and his friends have repeatedly flagged these posts, but to no avail.

“Somehow those don’t seem to qualify as going against Facebook Standards,” Steen told Heavy. “Mainly, it seems, because Ronnie is already dead.”

Facebook didn’t respond to a VICE News question about these comments.

While Facebook has taken steps to block the video being reposted on its site, copies have spread on a number of fringe websites, including 4Chan, in the week since the tragic incident.

But in the last couple of days, the video has gone viral on mainstream social networks, most notably TikTok. Those posting the video have tried to get around TikTok’s efforts to block the content by sharing it in comments of other videos, hiding it in another video that appears more innocent, or simply not sharing a warning about the content.

Videos like this can attain a much wider audience on TikTok compared to other platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, because they are shared in a section known as the For You Page, where users scroll through an endless list of videos.

Since the video began spreading on TikTok a lot of prominent creators have posted videos warning their followers to look out for an image — a man with a grey beard sitting in front of his desk — and swipe away from the video.

“We are banning accounts that repeatedly try to upload clips, and we appreciate our community members who’ve reported content and warned others against watching, engaging or sharing such videos on any platform out of respect for the person and their family,” TikTok told VICE News in a statement.

But despite these efforts, children as young as 13 are still being exposed to the video, according to parents posting warnings on social media accounts for other parents.

“My 16-year-old described it to me,” one mother said on Facebook. “It haunts her and the image of his little dog that comes into the room after he did it.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741, or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org for more information.

Cover: File photo dated 03/11/15 of a woman using her phone under a Facebook logo. Niall Carson/PA Wire URN:55157879 (Press Association via AP Images)