Dying to Succeed: A Qualitative Content Analysis of Online News Reports About Affluent Teen Suicide Clusters
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The media is a social factor influencing suicide clusters. As a result, the AFSP and the CDC established guidelines for journalists in order to prevent suicide contagion and imitation. Compliance has been inconsistent. However, researchers have failed to explore the qualitative nature of how media reports are framed. Furthermore, research has not examined how online news reports may include features unique to the digital environment. One must also consider how other social factors affect the development of suicide clusters. Family, affluence, peers, and education may influence suicide clustering, especially amongst teens and young adults. Psychological factors, like imitation and contagion, should also be considered. This research examined online media reports and appended comments pertaining to three point suicide clusters involving teens and young adults (Cornell University 2009-2010 and Palo Alto, CA 2009-2010/2014-2015). Eighty-two online news articles and 2,500 comments were analyzed. The researcher conducted discourse analysis and a comparative case study using domains and themes derived from the data. Articles were checked for compliance to the preventative guidelines, and the qualitative nature of violations was explored. Descriptive statistics and timing of publication were used to describe the relationship between media framing and the development of suicide clusters. Comments were examined for both reflexive and oppositional responses to media frames. Data was also open coded for the consideration of other domains and themes. Findings suggested that while the media often failed to adhere to prevention guidelines, the online news reports do not seem to be a large factor in the growth of the point clusters under investigation. Instead, findings suggested that these online reports offer protective features including hyperlinks to prevention resources and scientific facts, as well as public comment spaces for coping and the creation of a collective will. Findings also suggested that other social factors including the affluent family, peer groups, and education might be equally influential. These factors alter levels of social integration and normative regulation, sometimes in an interactional manner. The researcher argued that social factors might lead community members to experience egoistic, fatalistic, and/or anomic suicidal tendencies. Furthermore, both imitation and contagion may be at play.