Jan. 6, 2011 at 7:03 PM ET
With Facebook expanding the center of our social life, we increasingly encounter the same fraught issues that stymie us face-to-face.
Such seems to be the case of Simone Back, 42, found dead in her apartment in Brighton, England following her final message on the social network, posted at 10:53 p.m. on Christmas Day: "Took all my pills be dead soon bye bye everyone."
"While some Facebook friends from out of town begged online for her address and telephone number so they could get help, none of those who lived closer did anything to help," the U.K. Telegraph reports. "Several friends taunted the charity shop worker as she lay dying on the floor of her flat. Just minutes after the post a friend replied, 'She ODs all the time and she lies.'"
The discussion continued for 148 messages, but no one reached out to Back until her mother, Jennifer Langridge, phoned the police after receiving a text message about her daughter's message 17 hours after it was posted.
This tragedy occurs just as Facebook and the National Council of Suicide Prevention (NCSP) are working together to continue to refine their suicide prevention protocols and share best practices. A meeting with other major Internet tech companies is planned for the end of January to build a partnership in this effort.
"It's a really sad and regrettable thing and it is something we care deeply about," a Facebook spokesperson said in a phone interview. "That's why we're developing this partnership with other tech companies. We want to be on the cutting edge and work together to have the fastest and most effective possible response."
According to Dr. Dan Reidenberg, managing director of NCSP and executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, "Facebook is truly remarkable in its leadership in trying to help save lives in the online era. "
Facebook campaigned extensively in conjunction with NCSP last year for World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10. The social network also provides suicide prevention resources and an active emergency alert system to report suicidal threats or statements.
Reports are received through a prioritized queue. Facebook alerts the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline which reaches out to the at-risk individual. Facebook historically works closely with law enforcement and has similar protocols in place for addressing other possible threats or crime found via the site, and assisting in the search for missing children.
Resources for suicide prevention and Facebook aren't two ideas we usually put together. Certainly, it's much easier — and headline grabbing — to make the inaccurate and irresponsible argument that Facebook is destroying social connections. Indeed, it's shocking that Simone Back had 1,082 Facebook friends, yet none aware of the status update made an active effort to help — shocking, but not unusual in any area of human interaction.
While Dr. Reidenberg contends that social media provides opportunity to identify and reach out to those at risk, he added that the tragic response to Simone Back's announcement is unfortunate, but common. Historically, such reactions used to be worse.
"We do find people today are more responsive and reactive, but it's still a far cry from where we need to be," he said in a phone interview. "Most of the time, people believe those at risk are trying to get attention or that they are being manipulative." Stepping up, asking the right questions, or knowing where to go for help is still not the norm.
"Most often people are too afraid to ask the question or don't know what to ask," Dr. Reidenberg said. Even if they want to ask another if he or she is considering suicide, they're afraid they won't know what to do if the answer is yes, he added.