On August 25, 2021, a proposed class action was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, by the father of a 16-year-old girl who committed suicide, claiming that Netflix’s show, “13 Reasons Why” caused hundreds of children to commit suicide and further caused psychological harm to thousands of vulnerable youths who viewed the show.
In the complaint, Herndon claims that Netflix ignored expert warnings that the 2017 show, which glorified a fictional teenage girl’s suicide, would lead to child suicides and psychological harm. He further alleges that Netflix used an algorithm to gain an audience of vulnerable youths.
According to the complaint, “even after empirical researchers repeatedly identified the profound human cost of Netflix’s decisions, Netflix still did not meaningfully warn about the dangers of its show, and did not moderate its algorithms to avoid targeting vulnerable children.”
Additionally, the complaint alleges that Netflix released “13 Reasons Why” without meaningful warnings to viewers about the show’s subject matter and its associated dangers and used its “sophisticated, targeted recommendation algorithms” to “manipulate” vulnerable children into watching the show.
Herndon’s 15-year-old daughter, Bella, killed herself in 2017 after reportedly binge-watching the first season of the show. According to the complaint, there was a 28.9% increase in child suicides during the first month of the show’s original release.
The show is an American teen drama that was based on author Jay Asher’s 2007 novel “Thirteen Reasons Why.” The show depicts the aftermath of the fictitious teenage girl Hannah Baker’s suicide. In the show, before taking her life, Hannah left behind a box of cassette tapes in which she details the thirteen reasons why she chose to end her life and the people she believes are responsible for her death. Additionally, Baker’s death is played out for viewers in a three-minute-long graphic scene involving detailed self-harm, according to the complaint.
In 2019, Netflix removed the scene of Baker’s death only after years of backlash from members of the public who said it “glorified suicide.” “Only after hundreds of children died and after thousands were harmed did Netflix remove its most gratuitous scene of violent suicide, having never warned of the harm it could cause while targeting children directly with that content.”
The lawsuit further alleges that, although Netflix currently displays an advisory sign before the first episode of the first season of the show only, it is “vague language that a reasonable person would think merely indicates mature subject matter, rather than a real risk of genuine harm.”
“Among other problems, this advisory does not warn that viewing the Show could itself cause suicide, suicidal ideation, etc.,” the complaint reads. “Instead, it merely suggests that there are mature themes depicted and that the presence of a trusted adult might be desirable. There is no clear indication of the foreseeable harms, rather than a suggestion that the themes may be emotional or psychologically difficult.”
The lawsuit includes claims of failure to warn, negligence, and wrongful death. It seeks punitive damages, economic compensatory damages, and non-economic compensatory damages.
The Herndon family is represented by Gregory Keenan, Andrew Grimm, and James D. Banker of Digital Justice Foundation; Ryan Hamilton of Hamilton Law LLC; Rory Stevens of the Law Office of Rory L. Stevens; and Megan Verrips of Information Dignity Alliance.
Netflix is represented by Blanca F. Young, Jennifer L. Bryant, and Cory M. Batza of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.
The suit is The Estate of Isabella “Bella” Herndon et al. v. Netflix Inc., case number 5:21-cv-06561, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
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