Facebook Live murder-suicide presents larger questions about society, social media

Jiranuch Trirat, mother of 11-month-old daughter, whose murder was broadcast on Facebook Live, stands next to a picture of her daughter at the funeral in Phuket, Thailand April 25, 2017. Photo: Sooppharoek Teepapan/ Reuters
Jiranuch Trirat, mother of 11-month-old daughter, whose murder was broadcast on Facebook Live, stands next to a picture of her daughter at the funeral in Phuket, Thailand April 25, 2017. Photo: Sooppharoek Teepapan/ Reuters

A Phuket man’s filming of himself murdering his infant daughter by hanging on Facebook Live on Monday evening is just the latest example of the social network’s live-streaming function being used to broadcast grisly crimes. He later hung himself off-camera.

Officers on the southern resort island said they were alerted to the video by friends of the man and rushed to an abandoned building near the island’s international airport on Monday afternoon.

“They had already died when I arrived there,” Lt. Jullaus Suvannin, one of the first on the scene, told AFP, adding that a smartphone was found propped up against a wall.

Police said they believed the man, Wuttisan Wongtalay, 20, had argued with his wife and the mother of the murdered child, an 11-month girl named Natalie “Beta” Wongtalay. Some reports say that the mother, Jiranuch Trairat, 21, was dating someone else and had left Wuttisan.

Channel 3 broadcast footage of the child’s distraught mother, flanked by relatives, picking up both her daughter’s body and the man’s corpse from the local hospital on Tuesday.

Local media reported that Wuttisan allegedly checked his wife’s phone the night before the tragic incident. He was angry and attempted to strangle Jiranuch. The mother of the child left to sleep at her brother’s house.

The next morning, Jiranuch came back to the home she lived in with Wuttisan to pack her things and give the relationship a break. Wuttisan was leaving the house with their daughter, claiming he was going out to “run errands.”

Jiranuch told Reuters that she had lived with Wuttisan for over a year. At first the relationship had gone well, she said, but then he grew violent and sometimes hit her 5-year-old son from a previous husband.

Later that day, Jiranuch feared something was wrong after her calls to Wuttisan went unanswered, so she set out to look for her husband and daughter.

“I was afraid he would hurt our daughter even though he loved her,” she told Reuters by phone from the funeral.

After many ignored phone calls and hours later, the family saw the Facebook Live video on Wuttisan’s account, according to Workpoint.

Facebook Response

Phuket’s governor called on Thais not to share the four-minute clip of the murder and suicide, copies of which could still be found on the social network as of yesterday afternoon, some 24 hours after it went live.

It showed the man hanging the helpless girl from the edge of the derelict hotel.

Wuttisan’s suicide was not broadcast in the clip but his body was later found hanging in the same way.

In a statement late Tuesday, Facebook described the incident as “appalling”.

“There is absolutely no place for content of this kind on Facebook and it has now been removed,” the social network told AFP.

The killing comes just days after Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg vowed to work to keep the world’s leading social network from being used to propagate harrowing acts like murder and suicide.

Zuckerberg was responding to pressure after a man in the US state of Ohio used Facebook Live to broadcast footage of himself walking up to an older man that he did not know in the street and shooting him dead on Easter weekend.

The killer went on to fatally shoot himself after a massive manhunt and police chase. The video of that crime was wiped from the site within hours.

During a speech last Wednesday, Zuckerberg conceded that Facebook had “a lot of work” to do on the issue.

“We are going to work on building common ground, not just getting more opinions out there,” he added.

Facebook already has a 24-hour team of moderators who decide whether to remove content that is reported to them. Suicides and crimes are prioritized.

But the network says they are limited by how quickly they can respond to the sheer volume of content posted online each day.

They added that there have been instances in which reported videos of a suicide attempt have resulted in a person being saved by local law enforcement, including such a case in Thailand in January.

The Ministry of Digital Economy has said it will not press charges against the social media site since the site removed the video promptly after being alerted by officials on Tuesday afternoon, which is in keeping with their posted practices.

Ministry spokesman Somsak Khaosuwan called Facebook “cooperative” in the unfortunate incident, reported Bangkok Post.

In addition, The Mental Health Department has stepped forward to say that they are concerned that this act, and the publicity of the case, could spur vulnerable young Thais to commit similar copycat acts.

Department head Dr. Boonruang Trairuangvorawat advised people not to share streams of suicide or attempts or other crimes. He also noted that, at this time, people should closely watch their loved ones, especially young people suffering from depression, for hints or signs that they could be planning such an act, reported Thai PBS.

A 2015 study noted that there are roughly 350 suicide cases a month in Thailand and that men are four times as likely to commit the act as women.


Story: AFP/ Reuters/ compilation of local media reports

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