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Here is a counter argument to two posts (here and here) I shared in January.  I continue to investigate the value and the challenge of technology in relationship to providing support and help in crisis.  I think the piece below is a good cautionary essay about getting too carried away with the ability of technology to be flawlessly useful in caring for others.  In fact, the scary thing about Facebook and suicide prevention is that a post on Facebook has no guarantee of being seen in time to help, even if the suicide attempt was truly a cry for help.

You never forget the ceiling after a suicide attempt. You finally open your eyes and there it is. An expletive follows, then you assess the physical damage. If you are like me, and your attempt involved pills and alcohol, the physical fatigue, nausea, remorse and anger are beyond words. I know. I was a sick, troubled young woman. It was the 1970′s – decades before the discovery of many antidepressants and the founding of Facebook.

I am now on both.

I am devoted to my antidepressants and Facebook. I am on both daily. I have spent a lot of time researching my antidepressants – how and why they work and their side-effects. As for Facebook, I watched a movie about its young founders.

In my experience, the only connection between Facebook and suicide were the tragic stories about young people who had killed themselves after posting their intentions on Facebook.

Like Simone Back posted her final status update at 10.53pm on Christmas Day 2010: Took all my pills be dead soon so bye bye every one. Kameron Jacobsen, 14, of Monroe Woodbury High School took his own life in Januarly 2011 after he was tormented by Facebook bullies who taunted him about what they thought was his sexual orientation.

And of course, Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman posted a goodbye message on his Facebook page fore jumping to his death after his roommate, Dharum Ravi, secretly filmed him during a “sexual encounter” in his dorm room and posted it live on the Internet. Clementi’s post dated Sept. 22 at 8:42 p.m. read, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” Ravi was found guilty of hate crimes last week.

And on and unfortunately, on.

Facebook responded in December 2011 by creating a real-time service that allows enables users to instantly connect with a crisis counselor through Facebook’s “chat” messaging system. If a friend spots a suicidal thought on someone’s page, he can report it to Facebook by clicking a link next to the comment. Facebook then sends an email to the person who posted the suicidal comment encouraging them to call the hotline or click on a link to begin a confidential chat.

“One of the big goals here is to get the person in distress into the right help as soon as possible,” Fred Wolens, public policy manager at Facebook, told The Associated Press.

Facebook as over 800 million users. So, you would think this would be a really effective suicide intervention tool. Problem is, where the heck is it and who knows about it? Sure, there were reports by the Associated Press, USA Today, the New York Times and countless other online and television news shows. But what if you don’t watch or read the news? As a journalist I would like to believe that everyone does. But they don’t – especially teenagers.

How can folks use the tool if they don’t even know it exists? And even if they do know it exists, how the heck do you find it? Go ahead. Try to find it right now…See what I mean. Before I give you the instructions, I would like to mention that Facebook also introduced a tool earlier in 2011 that enables users to report bullying. Again, you have to know it exists and how to find it or it’s worthless.

To me, Facebook’s effort to address this problem smacks of a CYA tactic to protect or at least mitigate Facebook’s responsibility should a lawsuit be filed. If Facebook was really, truly interested in preventing bullying and suicide it would launch a marketing campaign instead of relying on the media to report the service in publications, online and on-air that many users don’t read or view.

Now, on to the important stuff: the directions.

Click the little down arrow in the top right hand corner of the page (it is right beside the word HOME).

Click Go to Help Center at the bottom of the drop-down box.


In the center of this page you will see this category: SURFACE SAFETY AND PRIVACY CONCERNS

There are five bullet items. In the right hand column of of these, click HELPING SOMEONE WHO POSTED SUICIDAL CONTENT

You will then be offered three choices:

  • For help contacting your local suicide prevention organization, click here.
  • To report suicidal content to Facebook, click here.
  • For resources about identifying and responding to suicide warning signals, click here.

There you have it. Good luck remembering these steps if – God forbid – you ever need them.