Tech & The Web

Facebook User’s Suicide Status Goes Largely Ignored

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A Brighton died after leaving a Facebook status update implying she had intentionally taken a fatal dose of pills.

Only a handful of more than 1,000 of her Facebook friends attempted to reach out, and the victim’s mother wants to know why.

The Daily Mail states that “none of the 1,048 friends she had on the social networking site even attempted to contact her in person to stop her.”

But several paragraphs down, it seemingly contradicts this, stating that “some Facebook friends from out of town begged online for her address and telephone number so they could get help.” Clearly, some were attempting to reach her to get her the help she apparently needed.

The paper then states that no one who lived closer — some even lived within walking distance — did anything to reach her.

This is a sad story. Suicide is always a tragedy.

But this story really ticks me off for several reasons.

For one thing, who announces that they’re going to kill themselves after they’ve allegedly taken a fatal dose of some pills? Most people who are “crying for help” and who really want to be helped might leave such a status, but won’t actually take the pills, or certainly won’t take a necessarily fatal dose.

Because they don’t really want to die.

The majority of people who actually do commit suicide do so because they really want to die. They don’t want help. They’ve made up their mind, and it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to do anything to stop them unless you happen to be able to be right there in a very few minutes’ notice.

Then, there’s the reality of Facebook. Let’s just forget this foolishness about how many friends she had. I have 637 friends in my account, and as I write this, only 38 of them are actually online with me. That’s roughly the average amount of my Facebook friends that are ever online at any one point. It translates into just 6% of the people who are connected to me in that account.

If I post a new status message, not even all 38 will even see it. If I say something clever or funny, maybe three or four people — maybe six or seven if it’s really entertaining — will even take the time to click “Like.” Only one or two will likely take the time to comment.

So let’s say that the 6% is a good mark to go with. If those numbers hold, we’re talking about 62 people who might have been on, live, when she made that post. But we can’t reasonably assume that all of them would have even noticed what she posted; they may have been playing a Facebook game, or looking at someone’s photos, or having a chat with someone else. There are lots of things to do on Facebook that take you away from the stream of status messages.

Think about this: how many people on your Facebook friends list do you have mailing addresses and/or telephone numbers for? Some list them, but most — at least in my case — don’t.

I’ve tried to reach out to friends of mine who’ve posted things indicating that they were down, but if you don’t have a phone number or a physical address, and if they don’t respond in chat or to messages, then I have absolutely no way to reach them. Even if I’m within walking distance of them, if I don’t know their address, being in that close proximity accomplishes nothing.

But let’s assume that there were those among her friends who were online and did see her message. It’s easy for those of us who didn’t know the victim to point fingers at her Facebook friends. What we don’t know is how the victim’s personality was around these Facebook friends prior to her death: was she a prankster? Did she make unusual posts prior to this? Could it have just been assumed to be black comedy rather than anything to be taken seriously?

I’m not trying to justify willful inaction on her friends’ part. But let’s face it: if these Facebook friends were real friends of hers — not just casual acquaintances that are easily found on almost anyone’s profile — they’re already dealing with the heartbreak of her suicide.

If they honestly didn’t think she was serious, then they don’t deserve to be vilified for not doing what they may genuinely not have known they needed to do.

6 Comments

  1. Explainable in part through a psychological phenomenon known as "Diffusion of Responsibility." it was at play in the murder of Kitty Genovese – witnessed by numerous persons who did nothing – decades ago.

  2. I agree with your analysis. I know I've friends who are online quite often, and still miss things I've posted, and I don't even post a whole lot. Things do get lost in the shuffle on a newsfeed. I also hide certain people from mine – either people that post a lot of things I don't want to read, or those that post useless things (app updates) that I'm unable to filter.So there's the chance of those 1000+ friends she had, that even less of them saw the update than they think. It's unreliable to use a wall post for anything like that.

    I also think many people are desensitized to such things – the 'emo' type is very prevalent lately, and as such it's probably not seen as very serious.

  3. So true. I miss out on things even my daughter and son post. Of course, I play Farmville, which eats up a lot of space on my wall. On the other hand, I got first-hand information that Cliff's brother had a heart attack Sunday almost as soon as he was put on the ambulance. Someone thought it strange I should learn that way, but his daughter-in-law was left behind and ran in the house and posted, asking for prayers. This modern world has strange ways, doesn't it?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.