Last week, XXXTentacion posted a video to his Instagram page that appeared to show him hanging himself. After several hours without comment from him or a rep, and much fevered speculation as to whether the video was real or not, XXX reappeared and explained that it had been a scene from an upcoming music video.
He seemed confused that people had thought it was real (despite the fact that the original IG post had no explanatory caption at all), and outraged that some thought it was a publicity stunt (even though it happened just hours in advance of the release of his debut album). "If you thought I would 'pretend' to kill myself for a publicity stunt you're fucking stupid," he wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post.
But many people, including his fans, thought exactly or worse that for several long hours. And for someone in the rapper's position, with a young and, in his own words, "cult" fanbase who "abide[s] by everything I believe in," having fans believe that you died by suicide can potentially put them in danger of following in your footsteps.
Dr. Julie Cerel is a professor at the University of Kentucky and is the President of the American Academy of Suicidology. She told Complex that the phenomenon of copycat suicides is "something that we're concerned about."
"There's lots of evidence that irresponsible reporting, including in the entertainment industry, that is specific about method, and is someone that people look up to, increases the risk in people that are already vulnerable," she explained.
As a reference, Dr. Cerel points to a recent study about the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. The show, which is fictional, deals with a teenager's suicide. The study found that, in the weeks after the show, Google searches for phrases like "how to commit suicide," "commit suicide," and "how to kill yourself" increased dramatically (by 26, 18, and 9 percent, respectively) compared to control weeks. While the study didn't track whether actual suicides went up along with the searches, previous studies have shown a connection.
"Across time, there's been lots of examples of people who died by suicide [and] showed it in really graphic ways, and there were spikes in people who were fans, or who looked up to them or idolized them," Dr. Cerel said.
And that's the real danger in what XXXTentacion did. Graphic depictions of suicide, especially by celebrities with devoted fan bases, can possibly trigger copycats. While there have luckily been no cases like that reported in the wake of the rapper's IG video, a handful of fans did talk on Twitter about taking their own lives during the few hours where it appeared the clip might have been real.
"[D]eaths of celebrities have the strong potential to contribute to suicide contagion due to... the likelihood that the public feels they can identify with such well-known individuals," reports Ohio's Mental Health and Addiction Services agency. That is a heavy responsibility, and one that XXX, as someone who knows the pain of having a friend die by suicide, presumably takes very seriously. So hopefully, since it appears this situation ended without any crises, the rapper and everyone around him will leave less room for ambiguity in future discussion or depictions of the topic.
If you’re feeling suicidal, talk to somebody. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273- 8255; the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860; or the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386. Text 'START' to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or in Ohio, text '4HOPE.' If you don’t like the phone, connect to the Lifeline Crisis Chat at crisischat.org.