Social Media Autopsy: New Aspect of Psychological Autopsy in Suicide cases

BY Pallavi Mohanty | August 27, 2020

Social Media Autopsy: New Aspect of Psychological Autopsy in Suicide cases

If we look at present scenario, there is increase in rate of suicide among the youngsters. Its high time to take some steps to prevent more cases of suicide in coming years. As matter of fact, WHO( World Health Organization) stated that 8lakh people die due to suicide every year which is equal to 1 person die in every 40 sec. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among the youngsters. In every suicide case, after post-mortem analysis, Psychological Autopsy is to be carried out. Psychological autopsy is the analysis of the psychological aspect of the victim prior to death. This analysis is done by interviewing family members, relatives, friends, doctors, police personnel. Even the relevant documents related to death and victim is collected and reviewed. Social media Autopsy is a part of Psychological Autopsy which is done to know more about the victim. Though today’s generated is more into social media, they share their emotions more in social media’s than in real life. Such proneness is beneficial to analyse the state of mind of the victim prior to death. All these process is done just to ensure whether the suicide is “Self-inflicting Suicide” or “Abetment to suicide”.

It is a death investigation technique, which is used to determine the manner of death in case of undetermined, ambiguous, equivocal deaths. It is a process of psychological analysis (state of mind, influencing factors/instigating factors) of the deceased which cause him/her to commit suicide.

What Is Psychological Autopsy?
It is a death investigation technique, which is used to determine the manner of death in case of undetermined, ambiguous, equivocal deaths. It is a process of psychological analysis (state of mind, influencing factors/instigating factors) of the deceased which cause him/her to commit suicide. After the death of an individual by suicide, a medico-legal autopsy is conducted. The reports says about certain external features like signs of asphyxia, presence of ligature marks, froth from mouth, cynosis of nails and lips etc, which concludes death due to suicide. But it has become very necessary to actually determine the cause which compel an individual to commit suicide. Main motive is to determine whether it is a case of Suicide or Abetment to Suicide??

Psychological Autopsy is such an investigating technique which answers to this question, by analyzing the psychological state of an individual right before committing suicide. This process includes collection of all the information related to the deceased right fro family members, friends, relative, police personnel and all members related to the case. All relevant information is also collected to the deceased person and thus psychoanalyse is done and a theory is formed by synthesizing data.

What Is Social Media Autopsy?
Today’s generation is all about “Digital age”. Every youth right from the age of 12 and above has access to social media. It is very common that each of us communicate, share our thoughts in social media which directly or indirectly suggest about an individual’s state of mind. Social media in terms of Watsapp, facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc are commonly used by every youth. So considering about the case of suicide, social media is a best approach to consider for psychological analysis of an individual to determine certain factors which may lead to form a conclusion. Collecting all information from all social media accounts to which the victim is associated with, all its activity is to recognized and recorded. Using this information one can determine the possible cause or instigating factor contributing to suicide of an individual. 

How Is It Helpful To Solve A Case Of Suicide?
Social media is connected with various types of crime (cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking etc) which may be the cause of committing suicide or abetment to suicide. Many youngsters are so much into social media that they live a life of fantasizes. By digging all the information of victim’s phone, messages, mails and social media accounts, it can be known that whether the victim was facing some sort of threats, bullying or someone who was instigating to commit suicide. Children may develop anxiety, eating disorder, distress, depression, emotional problem. It has become a trend for every social media user’s a to share every updates about their whereabouts, their emotion status, particular mood at particular time in the form of status or updates. So, it is very necessary to study about the victim’s psychological condition prior to death by analyzing the whole emotions history updated in social media account. If someone is facing cyber-bullying, the victim usually hesitate from sharing with anyone about the problem. According to them, they think suicide is the only way out to end the problem. In this scenario we can consider this suicide as “Sub-intentional death” as the victim is not totally responsible for death rather it is the cyber-bullying which instigate the victim to commit suicide. This sort of information will not be provided by the medico-legal autopsy, so psychological autopsy should be done in order to determine whether the suicide is “Intentional Suicide” or “Abetment to Suicide”.

Case Study To Support The Fact
A Southern Italian girl was found hanging from the railing of balcony of her house. Using bed-sheet she committed suicide. After post-mortem analysis it was confirmed that it was “Suicide by hanging”. Then Psychological autopsy was extended with social mobile autopsy to determine various risk factors. After reviewing her social media, there were sentimental post updated in her Facebook profile prior to death. Nearly 100 messages were recovered with her boyfriend. They were in a hidden relationship which was unknown to girl,s parents. For this reason, the boy decided to end his relationship with girl.
BOY: “we couldn’t meet again”
GIRL: “I cannot live without you”
This was the reason why the girl committed suicide. But this reason was never revealed in post-mortem reports. So it has become very necessary to conduct Psychological Autopsy in every suicide case.

Conclusion
Social-media Autopsy is not limited to the cases of suicide but should be extended to other cases to determine the actual manner of death and NASH (Natural, Accidental, Suicidal, Homicidal). After the death of an individual, it is very important to investigate the root reason for the commission of the crime. Every individual is leading two types of life (i) normal/ reality life (ii)socially attached life. This 2 ways of leading life are far different from each other. So basically to know a person completely, it is very necessary to interrogate these two aspects thoroughly. In Indian scenario, cases of Suicide is increasing at an alarming rate. So it has become very necessary to determine the risk factor in order to minimize the rate of suicide in near future.Finally, it is a request to all the Investigator out there investigating suicide cases, to include Psychological Autopsy along with the post- mortem conductance. Let’s take a step ahead all along to change the world and make it a happier place again.   
 
References
Isometsä, E. Psychological autopsy studies – a review. European Psychiatry, (2001) 16(7), 379–385. PRINT.doi:10.1016/s0924-9338(01)00594-6 
Aquila, I et al. “The "Social-mobile autopsy": The evolution of psychological autopsy with new technologies in forensic investigations on suicide.” Legal medicine (Tokyo, Japan) vol. 32 (2018): 79-82. doi:10.1016/j.legalmed.2017.12.008

Faye Mishna ET AL. Prevalence, Motivations, and Social, Mental Health and Health Consequences of Cyberbullying Among School-Aged Children and Youth: Protocol of a Longitudinal and Multi-Perspective Mixed Method Study.2016 May 24;5(2):e83. doi: 10.2196/resprot.5292. WORLD HEALTH ORGANIATION(WHO),Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/health-topics/suicide

Caulkins, Chris. The Psychological Autopsy: What, Who, and Why.(2019). Research gate. Volume2,Issue.Print. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/332835408_The_Psychological_Autopsy_   What_Who_and_Why