Public response to suicide news reports as reflected in computerized text analysis of online reader comments
Rosen, G., Kreiner, H., & Levi-Belz, Y.
Previous research has documented the rise in rates of suicidal behaviors following media reports of celebrity suicide. Whereas most research has focused on documenting and analyzing suicide rates, little is known about more subtle psychological effects of celebrity suicide on the public, such as despair and feelings of abandonment. The Internet has revolutionized the responses to news reports, enabling immediate and anonymous responses potentially reflecting these psychological processes. Thus, the current study explored the unique psychological impact of a celebrity suicide on the public by analyzing the big data of readers’ comments to suicide news reports, using computational linguistics methods. Readers’ comments (N = 14,506) to suicide news reports were retrieved from 4 leading online news sites. The comments were posted in response to 1 of 1 types of reports: a celebrity suicide (Robin Williams), a non-celebrity suicide, and general reports of suicide as a social phenomenon. LIWC software for computerized linguistic analysis was used to calculate the frequency of the various types of words used. Comparison of the responses to the 3 types of suicide reports revealed higher frequency of first-person pronouns and for emotionally charged words on comments to a celebrity suicide, compared with comments to the other types of suicide reports. The findings suggest that celebrity suicide news reports evoke the expression of positive emotions, possibly related to the venerated celebrity, alongside negative, internalized emotions, and feelings of social isolation. Theoretical, practical, and methodological implications are discussed.