In the last month there have been three, widely publicized, cases of people streaming their own suicides; two on Facebook Live and one on Live.Me. Depending on your perspective, you can either call this an uptick in suicides, or part of the new norm. Either way, once we’ve debated the future of social media suicides, the next most pertinent question will be, “how do we stop them?”
This is where the issue becomes even more complicated than life or death. For some, the answer will be increased regulations, for others it will be more partnerships with emergency services, and still others will simply acknowledge this phenomenon and move on with their lives. One answer, perhaps, is a combination of the three.
No one wants to see more internet regulations, especially government regulations. In this case, I’m not convinced the g-men have the answers anyway. Instead, I would look more at the policies, rules, and procedures governing the various live feed sites. Take Facebook for example, if you come across a video of a person taking overt actions to end their life, you will spend the next few minutes clicking through the “report” function, only to land at a page informing you someone will eventually review your report. From that point, who knows how long it will be before the report is reviewed, the proper determination made, and the local emergency services contacted. Once that whole process is complete, it will take several more minutes, if not hours, for local law enforcement to find the person.
Instead, Facebook should streamline their reporting feature, so that reports of violence are immediately reviewed and the information is sent quickly to the right agency. They can also take steps to improve their relationships with emergency services, especially law enforcement, to ensure lifesaving information is passed to them in minutes rather than hours. Social media companies have become increasingly more hostile to the police in the US over the last three years, and it is coming back to bite them. Perhaps it’s time to remove the rhetoric, and start working together.
Taking this one step further, social media companies must now accept their role as a vital part of the human experience. As such, these companies have a great list of social responsibilities, not the least of which is the preservation of life. In pursuit of this, nothing is stopping Facebook or Twitter from partnering with the HHS or CDC in the US, and NGOs outside of the US, to promote suicide awareness, prevention, and services. Facebook themselves can facilitate the delivery of suicide awareness in those places where this type of service is a low priority. Imagine a time where a young person in Uganda could use Facebook to contact suicide counselors and seek assistance. If you think this is absurd, consider this, in the US patients began Skyping their doctors in 2014.
Human beings inherently want to help each other. This is especially true in social media where hundreds of people can band together in seconds to promote a cause or save a life. Social media companies need to tap into this human bond and help those who need it the most, in their most critical minutes.