The CEO of Netflix acts like he couldn’t care less about the potentially disastrous consequences of 13 Reason Why Season 2.
During the company’s annual shareholder meeting June 6, CEO Reed Hastings responded to backlash against the violent teen drama by saying, “13 Reasons Why has been enormously popular and successful. It’s engaging content. … It is controversial. But nobody has to watch it.”
The show’s first season told the story of a teenage girl’s suicide and included a graphic scene of her cutting her wrists. The latest season depicts a young man being sexually assaulted and then plotting a school shooting in revenge. It came out on Netflix the same day that a high school shooter in Santa Fe, Texas, killed 10 people. Netflix canceled that evening’s premiere party but not the show itself.
“For the health and welfare of children, I challenge Mr. Hastings immediately to rethink his callous response that ‘nobody has to watch it,’” said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council. “He is ostensibly proclaiming that financial gain for Netflix trumps the real-life consequences of his programming.”
Those real-life consequences include a 26 percent surge in Google searches for “How to kill myself” after the first season aired. Mental health experts say depictions of suicide on TV don’t necessarily drive teens to kill themselves, but they have a multiplied negative effect on viewers already struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Hastings is technically right that nobody has to watch a show like 13 Reasons Why, but who does he expect to stop vulnerable teens from tuning in? Most parents of teens do not police what their children do on the internet. A 2016 Pew study of adults with 13- to 17-year-old kids found 84 percent of them allowed their child unrestricted internet access via a mobile device. Responsibility for protecting children from harmful content has fallen on the content providers themselves, something Netflix seems to ignore.
The Parents Television Council started an online petition to get 13 Reasons pulled from the streaming service. And viewers can influence Netflix programming another way: Watch more of the shows that are safe for kids. Netflix collects hoards of data on what viewers watch and uses it to determine future shows. Take House of Cards, the dark political drama starring Kevin Spacey that was one of Netflix’s first original megahits.
“It was a calculated bet because we knew Netflix members like political dramas, that they like serialized dramas, that they are fans of Kevin Spacey, that they like David Fincher,” company spokesman Joris Evers told PBS NewsHour in 2014.
Not everything on Netflix is harmful. It’s the platform that revived VeggieTales, after all. By watching more family friendly shows, viewers can make a statement that they want more of what’s good and less of … whatever 13 Reasons is.