Attempt to reach out to desperate people is equated to a spammy McDonald’s campaign.

Japan was recently rocked by the Zama 9 serial killing in which the bodies of nine people were found in an apartment in Zama City, Kanagawa Prefecture. According to the investigation, the killer found his victims through social media posts implying that they had wanted to commit suicide.

Immediately following the grisly discovery, the Japanese arm of social media platform Twitter announced a new rule prohibiting “the promotion and incitement of suicide and self-injurious behavior.” While a nice sentiment, this could be considered the very definition of “easier said than done.” So perhaps that is why they took things a step further.

A new feature added to Japan’s Twitter is an algorithm that detects tweets implying suicide and posts an automatic reply containing relevant contact information to provide help such as counseling. Although again well-intentioned, this new system was met with widespread criticism from users, many of whom compared it to the ill-fated father-and-son Nugget Thieves campaign.

Earlier this year McDonald’s ran a campaign promoting their Chicken McNuggets with the Hamburglarish characters The Phantom Nugget Thief & Son. In what was meant to be a whimsical touch to the campaign, anyone that tweeted a mention of these characters would enter a contest for a solid gold chicken nugget and get an automated reply from McDonald’s.

However, it didn’t take long for Twitter users to weaponize this promotion and use it to harass people they didn’t like, such as a YouTuber whose tweet announcing his return to Twitter after a scandal-induced hiatus. His simple message of “I’m back” was rocked with over 50,000 replies, many of which were automatically generated by McDonald’s triggered when users replied with the names of the nugget thieves.

The ensuing calamity led to McDonald’s pulling the plug on the campaign, and thus taking a potent weapon out of the arsenal of trolls…until, as some feel, Twitter unwittingly put in right back in the name of suicide prevention.

“It’s the Nugget Thieves all over again…”
“This won’t work.”
“Someone better make a blocker for these automated replies.”
“So they’re going to fight suicide with spam?”
“There are a lot of ways to interpret ‘I want to die.'”

As the last comment pointed out, much like in English, in Japanese there are many ways to figuratively express that you “want to die” because of embarrassment or whatnot that an algorithm likely can’t distinguish very well. This could be the beginning of an irksome bot telling you to see a therapist any time you quoted Heartbreak Hotel.

Many Twitter users also referred to the countermeasure as a kusoripu, which is internet slang for a “shit reply” usually in reference to an annoying “mansplaining” style reply or in this case an unsatisfactory response to something.

On one hand, you could say that efficient suicide-prevention is an unrealistic expectation of any social network with a sea of data like Twitter to begin with. As such, despite this system’s flaws, if it could prevent even one death then it would be worth it.

But on the other hand, given what happened with the Nugget Thieves, it’s not hard to imagine people using these automatically generated suicide messages as a form of bullying. Only this time rather than an innocuous fast food ad, the nature of these messages have the power to conjure dark thoughts in their victims.

Time will tell which way this plays out, but hopefully for everyone’s sake it leans more towards the former.

Source: Sankei News
Top image: Twitter/@TwitterJP
[ Read in Japanese ]