Facebook's (non)response to suicide
STATUS UPDATE: “Hello and goodbye to all my Facebook friends. Seems you guys are about the closest people to me. I am taking my own life because I am unloved, unwanted, and apparently a real loser.”
I was startled when I saw that status update. The fact that I only know this person — let’s use a fake name, “Jen” — from playing an online game didn’t lessen the impact. We’re human, after all, and seeing other humans suffering is something we instinctively respond to, or at least we ought to.
I immediately replied, as did other people. At first there was surprise: “You’re joking here, right?” ... I asked questions, hoping to show I was hearing Jen’s pain, but also trying to figure out if she was in real danger.
Turns out she was. “2 months worth of Xanax should be painless.” Yes, that’s likely fatal, if done right. The more Jen said, though it wasn’t much, the more this sounded to me like a real plan. She had picked the day on purpose (it was symbolic of a relative’s mistreatment of her and designed to send a message) and been planning for it. She had called people close to her — and been rebuffed by them all — to tell them what she was going to do.
I got very scared. And then she just stopped replying to us. I had to act.
So when a Facebook friend posted a serious threat of suicide recently, I tried to help. Sadly, because this person was an “online” friend only, I didn’t have much information to work with. I searched the Web and finally found a full name and birthdate, and I had to hope that would be enough for local police. The friend was no longer online, and I was worried. (You can read my full story about the suicide attempt, "The Strength of Virtual Friendship", at my blog.)
But I thought maybe Facebook would be able to help. Maybe there was more information posted on this person’s account, an physical address or an IP or MAC address that could help with a location. I sent them what I knew and asked for help.
The next day, here’s what Facebook sent me (you can also find this by searching for “suicide” at their Help Center):
If you encounter a direct threat of suicide on Facebook, please immediately notify law enforcement or an organization that helps those at risk. For reports in the United States, we recommend that you contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a 24/7 hotline, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If possible, you should also encourage the user who posted the content to contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as well.
If you need to report suicidal content on Facebook in the future, please use the link below.
We will then review the information and take the appropriate action. Please rest assured that these reports are kept confidential. Finally, remember that you should contact the authorities if you feel someone you know may be in danger.
It took them until the next day? To be fair, I had not sent it to the link they provided (in my panic, I didn’t find it because I was searching for “friend suicide” and their search engine couldn’t find it using both terms), so maybe they would have responded faster if I had used the correct form.
But I wanted to know more. Would they help? When a different friend had talked to the police, they told her they couldn’t ask Facebook for help without a warrant. Is that true? Isn’t probable cause enough?
I expect that Facebook SHOULD help. After all, they’re people, right? And we all know they share all sorts of stuff that people don’t want them to share — posting a message to the News Feed everytime you make a comment to a friend, or “Like” something, or join a Group. Many people don’t want that stuff shared, but Facebook does it, anyway.
And they use ALL of our personal information, everything we post to everyone, to make money off of us by showing us ads. Privacy isn’t a concern when it comes to making money and creating Facebook traffic. So it shouldn’t be a concern when someone’s life is in danger, right?
So I asked Facebook directly. If I used their suicide reporting form, would they be able to help? After all, the message said they would “take the appropriate action.” What would they do? Here’s what they sent back:
Unfortunately, we cannot take any action on or release any information regarding a user’s account until we receive correspondence from the account holder. Sorry for any inconvenience this security policy may cause.
Wow. So not only will Facebook NOT help your friend if they’re dying, but a person dying is an “inconvenience”? Really? An “inconvenience”?
Why did they first say they would “take the appropriate action,” and then say “we cannot take any action”?
Facebook’s priorities are totally screwed here. This needs to change. If someone is attempting suicide, it is everyone’s job to try to help. Shame on you, Facebook.
Tags: Facebook , Suicide , Friend , Online , Media , Social Network , Community
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