Facebook baby killing: Grief and questions after shocking murder

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Jiranuch Trirat next to a picture of her daughter

An incident as shocking as a man murdering his 11-month-old daughter live on Facebook before killing himself was bound to provoke heated debate.

The 21-year-old man broadcast himself hanging his daughter from a half-finished building on the island of Phuket in Thailand, reportedly after ending a turbulent and sometimes violent relationship with his wife.

The man's Facebook page has received dozens of comments from Thai people outraged by the death of the little girl. Some men who have also had failed relationships have posted how they got through their problems and rebuilt bonds with their children.

Thais are accustomed to seeing violent scenes on their television news bulletins, which would be deemed unacceptable in many Western countries.

Previous shocking incidents, like appalling car accidents caused by negligent driving, have led to brief national debates, but have quickly dropped from public consciousness. But there have been some reflective responses to this incident, with a number of people urging people not to share the video.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Ms Trirat and her husband had a sometimes violent relationship, reports said

The long period of time the video remained viewable on Facebook - 24 hours - is one area the social media giant may be able to address.

Thai police were aware of the video almost immediately after the crime took place. It is not clear yet when the Thai authorities alerted Facebook.

The police now say that in future they will discuss inappropriate online content with social media companies like Facebook, YouTube or Instagram, and how to take it down quickly. But the challenge of stopping offensive and disturbing content on a medium, which is used by so many people, including two-thirds of the Thai population, is a difficult one.

The Thai military government does operate a range of censorship regimes, and blocks many thousands of websites, especially those carrying content deemed critical of the monarchy.

On the day this awful incident occurred, the Ministry of Digital Information and Economy demanded that local internet service providers (ISPs) do even more to block anti-monarchy content, and the government is believed to be trying to implement a single digital gateway which will allow it to wall Thailand off from such content.

But until now it has been wary of tampering with Facebook. A clumsy attempt to block Facebook shortly after the military had seized power in 2014 provoked a huge public outcry, and the social media giant remained unavailable for only 30 minutes.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Facebook is hugely popular with Thai people and businesses

Aside from the general popularity of Facebook for social communication, it is also used by large numbers of Thai businesses to promote their products and services.

Until now there has been little public debate over the negative sides of social media, for example hate speech, trolling and fake news, which have aggravated Thailand's bitter political polarisation. There is no law against hate speech.

So Thai society is less prepared to address issues like those thrown up by this murder-suicide.

A more fruitful area for discussion coming out of this incident might instead be the issue of domestic violence in Thailand, and the high level of suicides related to it.

The Thai Department of Mental Health reports that there are around 350 suicides a month here, a figure it says it is working to reduce.

Four times as many men than women are victims of suicide, and the highest number of those male suicides are related to relationship problems, and reactions to being criticised or insulted, or loss of face.

The department says alcohol consumption also plays a big role in encouraging these men to kill themselves, and that it is very common for them to assault others, usually family members, before they do.

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