Police are investigating the suicide of a 16 year-old girl who killed herself after asking her followers whether she should choose life or death via an Instagram poll, which saw 69% vote for death.
Police in the east Malaysian state of Sarawak said the girl, Davia Emilia, jumped off of a three story building hours after she posted the poll to her Instagram account on Monday with the question: “Really important, help me choose: D/L”.
With the authorities now investigating her death, a lawyer has suggested that those who voted for ‘death’ could be guilty of abetting suicide.
In Malaysia it is a criminal offence to encourage or assist a minor in committing suicide, and those found guilty can face the death sentence or up to 20 years in jail.
Ramkarpal Singh, a lawyer and MP in the north-western state of Penang, said: “Would the girl still be alive today if the majority of netizens on her Instagram account discouraged her from taking her own life?
“Would she have heeded the advice of netizens to seek professional help had they done so? Did the encouragement of those netizens actually influence her decision to take her own life?
“Since attempted suicide is an offence in this country, it follows that abetting one to attempt suicide may be, too.”
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Police say, at the time of her death, 69% voted for her to die. However, Instagram insists that the poll, which lasted 24-hours, ended with 88% of her followers choosing ‘L’.
District police chief Aidil Bolhassan concedes the results may have changed during the time the poll was active as more people learned of her death.
Emilia’s cousin took to Instagram to express anger at those who voted death writing: “Just now you guys voters for D, and this happen…happy now, Her cousin,” with an image of the girl’s body covered with a piece of cloth at the scene of her death.
The incident has sparked a strong reaction across Malaysia with politicians calling for national-level discussions about mental health. Malaysia’s youth and sports minister, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, said: “I am genuinely worried about the state of our youth’s mental health. It’s a national issue which must be taken seriously.”
Ching Yee Wong, head of communications, Instagram APAC, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with this young woman’s family. We have a deep responsibility to make sure people using Instagram feel safe and supported.
“As part of our own efforts, we urge everyone to use our reporting tools and to contact emergency services if they see any behaviour that puts people’s safety at risk.”
When questioned about the matter in Westminster, Instagram chiefs said it was too soon to say if they would take action against account holders who participated in the vote.
Vishal Shah, head of product at Instagram, told MPs: “The news is certainly very shocking and deeply saddening. There are cases…where our responsibility around keeping our community safe and supportive is tested and we are constantly looking at our policies.
“We are deeply looking at whether the products, on balance, are matching the expectations that we created them with. And if, in cases like the polling sticker, we are finding more evidence where it is not matching the expectations…we are looking to see whether we need to make some of those policy changes.”
This incident follows the suicide of British teenager Molly Russel, which prompted Instagram to announce plans to launch “sensitivity screens” to censor images of self-harm.
Following Russel’s death, her parents said they believe images of suicide and self-harm on the platform prompted their daughter to take her life in 2017.