Sunday night I participated in a very interesting chat on Twitter. It was part of the #SPSM chat, which stands for Suicide Prevention and Social Media. The chat was about an experience I had last summer. To make it overly brief, I ended up in an extended conversation with a suicidal person through an anonymous social media service, and I didn’t know what to do, how to do, or even whether to do anything. At that time, I was curious, and explored social media posts that state suicidal ideation or intent on several platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and so forth. Pinterest tended to say, “So CUTE I want to die” (with a few boards collecting sad stories). On Google Plus the results for “want to die” mostly brought up posts about animals in shelters scheduled for euthanasia. There were a few on each of Facebook and Twitter, but they tended to be mostly people using the phrase lightly for purposes of emphasis and drama, and more important, they rarely if ever show up in a normal Twitter stream. You have to go out explicitly hunting for them, as I did for this screenshot.
Once you shift over to the anonymous social media services, like Post-Secret, Secret, 6 Billion Secrets, and Whisper, it’s a different story. You can hardly turn around without tripping over a post that expresses some sort of suicidal thoughts or other emotional trauma, or worse, posts fantasizing about hurting other people. When I check Whisper, I’ll often see posts like those at the head of this blogpost, with timestamps of “1 minute ago” “46 seconds ago” and so on. The vulnerable posts can elicit comments ranging from heartfelt support to vicious attacks, which is a bit part of why the creator of Post-Secret shut down that app. My experience came on Whisper. Here are a couple other links showing some Whisper content.
Ashley Beckner: Whisper App Confessions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haTbJrwDnYM
13 Eye-Opening Confessions From Men In Abusive Relationships http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelzarrell/13-eye-opening-confessions-about-the-male-victims-of-domesti?bftw&utm_term=4ldqpfp#u9lop
16 Heartbreaking Anonymous Secrets: The anonymity afforded by Whisper often means we get a harrowing, intimate view of people’s daily struggles. http://www.buzzfeed.com/alanwhite/16-heartbreaking-anonymous-secrets#u9lop
In last night’s Twitter chat, some of the issues that came up included:
– challenges with the ethical underpinnings of anonymous social media services;
– challenges on anonymous services to find out where the person is, gender, other identifiers for rescuers;
– the idea that calling 911 for help for a person is a breach of community standards (like ‘narcing’ in drug culture);
– geographic challenges in locating assistance when the person is in a different country;
– different cultural standards for appropriate response to suicidal intent;
– legal challenges when the service refuses to identify the anonymous suicidal user except to police in the country of origin for the service (and not in the country of residence for the suicidal person);
– and much more.
Here are some of the tweets from last night’s chat.