The Foxconn suicides and their media prominence: Is the Werther Effect applicable in China?

Department of Social Work and Social Administration, 13th Floor, KK Leung Building, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR, China.
BMC Public Health (Impact Factor: 2.26). 11/2011; 11(1):841. DOI: 10.1186/1471-2458-11-841
Source: PubMed


Media reporting of suicide and its relationship with actual suicide has rarely been investigated in Mainland China. The "Foxconn suicides" is a description referring to a string of suicides/attempts during 2010, all of which were related to a giant electrical manufacturing company, Foxconn. This study aimed to examine the clustering and copycat effects of the Foxconn suicides, and to investigate temporal patterns in how they were reported by the media in Mainland China, Hong Kong (HK), and Taiwan (TW).
Relevant articles were collected from representative newspapers published in three big cities in Mainland China (Beijing (BJ), Shenzhen (SZ), and Guangzhou (GZ)), HK, and TW, together with searching intensity data on the topic conducted using the Baidu search engine in Mainland China. The temporal clustering effects of the Foxconn suicides and their media prominence were assessed using the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test. The media reports of the Foxconn suicides' temporal patterns were explored using a nonparametric curve estimation method (that is, the local linear method). The potential mutual interactions between the Foxconn suicides and their media prominence were also examined, using logistic and Poisson regression methods.
The results support a temporal clustering effect for the Foxconn suicides. The BJ-based newspapers' reporting and the occurrence of a Foxconn suicide/attempt are each found to be associated with an elevated chance of a further Foxconn suicide 3 days later. The occurrence of a Foxconn suicide also immediately influenced the intensity of both Baidu searching and newspaper reporting. Regional diversity in suicide reporting tempo-patterns within Mainland China, and similarities between HK and TW, are also demonstrated.
The Foxconn suicides were temporally clustered. Their occurrences were influenced by the reporting of BJ-based newspapers, and contagion within the company itself. Further suicide research and prevention work in China should consider its special media environment.

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