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Netflix hit with federal lawsuit over child suicides

Plaintiffs allege "hundreds" of children harmed themselves after watching the teen series "Thirteen Reasons Why"

Plaintiffs allege "hundreds" of children harmed themselves after watching the teen series "Thirteen Reasons Why"

This article discusses a fictitious television program that contains storylines related to self-harm and suicide among teenagers, as well as actual and purported incidents of self-harm and suicide among children.  If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or use the free San Francisco Suicide Prevention chat-by-text service by clicking or tapping here .

Streaming video service Netflix has been hit with a federal lawsuit by two child advocacy organizations and the estate of a deceased teenager over a controversial television drama.

The suit seeks more than $200,000 in damages after the plaintiffs allege the teen drama “Thirteen Reasons Why” inspired hundreds of children to commit acts of self-harm, including suicide.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the estate of Isabella “Bella Herndon, a teenager who took her own life after purportedly watching the series on Netflix.

It also lists Information Dignity Alliance and Digital Justice Foundation as members of the lawsuit, who charge Netflix with ignoring pleas from mental health experts that the display of self-harm and teen suicide by some characters in the show might encourage actual children to do the same.

The plaintiffs in the case say they are not suing Netflix for creating, marketing or distributing the series, but rather for ignoring those warnings from health experts, which they claim contributed to a spike in self-harm and suicide among children after the show was available to stream on Netflix in early 2017.

“Netflix failed to warn of these health risks,” the complaint filed in federal court said. Eventually, Netflix included a disclaimer before some episodes and cut a scene that showed a character taking their own life, but the plaintiffs say this was not an adequate step because “they do not reasonably warn of the risk that the show could cause suicide.”

Instead, the parties say Netflix might have actively enabled self-harm among teenagers who watched the show because the service’s algorithms purportedly “track them” in a way that allows the video streaming service to “manipulate and control what content” viewers will ultimately watch.

That apparently happened in the case of Isabella Herndon, who “experienced emotional and psychological distress and harm” after reportedly watching the show, the complaint said.

One month after the show began streaming on Netflix, Herndon took her own life, the complaint said. “[She] fell victim to the very health risk that medical experts and suicide-prevention experts had warned Netflix about regarding the show.”

The lawsuit is seeking class action status. Netflix had not issued a public comment on the lawsuit as of Thursday evening.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).