by Dan Cash
After a number of high profile cases, not least the death of Simone Back, the Brighton woman who posted her intention to commit suicide an her wall only to have absolutely none of her online friends do anything to see if she was alright Facebook are going to implement a suicide alert system. If friends think that some-one is saying things that seem like they could be suicidal then people are able to fill in a few details and a team at Facebook will take over.
The report page asks for the potential suicide’s full name, their Facebook URL along with the suicidal messages and any other information the reporter might feel is relevant. The facility is being supported by Samaritans who claimed that many people had found it useful over the test period and that there had been no hoaxes during the unpublicised test period. Nicola Peckett of Samaritans said that when a concern is reported the people over at Facebook then gauge whether it is necessary to call the police or emergency services or to forward the details over to Samaritans. Facebook point out that they have always had a policy of informing the police if an account holder appeared to be in danger of inflicting harm on themselves or anybody else.
The suicide alert system was tested over a three month period without any publicity, despite not being publicised to Facebook’s users they still received numerous reports of disturbing comments, none of which proved to be malicious. Many people hope that Simone Back’s example will never be followed. Ms Back had been unhappy and, at Christmas last year, had posted a wall comment stating that she was going to take her own life. Her friends did nothing but have an online fight about how Ms Back had made this kind of statement before which had come to nothing. No-one sent her a message directly or called to ask if she was alright. Her body was discovered some time later by her mother, who had no idea about the message on Facebook, went to visit her. Samaritans have stated that they started the response system not in response to this particular case but it is there to increase awareness of the different ways that are available for those who are in despair to reach out for help.
A spokesman from Facebook maintained that the safety of its users was of “paramount importance”. In a statement that they released on this issue they said Facebook was “deeply saddened” to learn of Ms Back’s death.
‘We have a close working relationship with the Samaritans and have a process in place whereby friends and family who are concerned about someone can report it to us through the help centre,” they said.
‘A team of trained professionals are then able to review the case and the Samaritans will make contact with the person at risk.’
Related to this story is the anti-bullying campaign that Barack and Michelle Obama have recently endorsed acting against bullying. There have been a number of cases where college students have been hounded to the brink and beyond by their Facebook ‘friends’ who have used the site either to launch a deliberate hate campaign or to post film, pictures, audio files and messages concerning their victims private life which the bullies believe is ‘funny’ yet leaves their victims humiliated and feeling helpless. Not least of these is the case of a New Jersey student who updated his status as “jumping off the [George Washington] bridge. Sorry” after his dorm-mates filmed him secretly and illegally, and then put the footage online.
While it is against Facebook’s policy to host images of a graphic nature they can be hosted elsewhere and knowledge of their existence propagated and promoted via Facebook and Twitter.
If you have been affected by any of these issues then contact the website concerned, a student advisor or a local support body. You haven’t done anything wrong and the only way to stop this kind of behaviour is to report it.