I was reading a book recently that revealed a curious statistic:Whenever there is any newspaper articles published or news story aired about the suicide of someone famous, the number of car crashes increases dramatically for a short time.https://www.jstor.org/stable/2778220
What could account for this fact?
One theory is that systemic sadness and stress in society lead to the famous person's suicide, and causes people to become nervous making them dangerous drivers. However this doesn't account for another fact: The increase is only relevant in the areas where and to the size at which it is publicized. This suggests not a common cause, but rather a direct causation of the publication of the suicide to the increase in car crashes.
Even more bizarre, the increase in vehicle fatalities resulting from those crashes correlates with the race and gender of the person who committed suicide.
So, what can account for this then?
The prevailing theory that neatly describes and even predicts these occurrences is known as the "Werther effect" after a German Novel about a charismatic man who commits suicide, which upon its publication lead to a marked increase in suicides eventually leading the book to be banned in many European countries. The theory suggests that when people see others committing suicide, and specifically people who are like them that they can relate to, that they are more likely to kill themselves if they were on the fence about it before.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18082110/
The critical insight here, is that the increase in car crashes is caused by suicidal individuals seeing other suicides, and then deciding they want to follow in their footsteps. They then drive off the road or into a busy intersection in order to make it look like an accident has occurred so that others might get life insurance.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1124845/
Now the critical question: If in fact depictions of suicide in the media can result in increased suicides, is it ethical to publish them, or would it be better if we censored such depictions altogether?
My personal opinion is that we should not censor these stories altogether, but they should be highly shunned and journalists and media producers must understand the criticality of their actions.
In the end we ought strive to better handle suicide stories as a memetic hazard, and carefully screen and select individuals best suited to handle this information. Those who fail to do so should be held accountable if and when possible. Especially large scale productions such as movies and TV shows should be shunned to the same degree most of us would reject a movie praising Hitler or the Holocaust.
At some point in the distant past, the universe went through a phase of cosmic inflation,
Stars formed, planets coalesced, and on at least one of them life took root.
Through a long process of evolution this life developed into the human race.
Humans conquered fire, built complex societies and advanced technology .
All of that so we can argue about nothing.