Facebook called to do more to prevent suicides signaled by users
By SSP Blue
An Internet safety expert is calling for Facebook to take more direct steps to intervene in potential suicide cases signaled by users of the popular social network.
That suggestion from Hemu Nigam, founder of Internet safety consultancy SSP Blue, follows the recent suicide of a 42-year-old British woman on Christmas Day. Simone Back posted her last message to 1,048 Facebook friends saying "I took all my pills be dead soon bye bye everyone."
Only a few friends responded to Back -- with skepticism and mockery, according to The Telegraph of London.
Nigam, former chief security officer at MySpace, says Facebook should provide a simpler way for its members to report potential suicides. He also contends Facebook needs to get more proactively involved in notifying law enforcement and suicide counselors about developing suicide cases that come to light on its Web pages.
"When you create a technology that's widely used in society, and someone uses that technology to reach out for help, the company should step forward to help if it can," says Nigam. "That should be a core corporate responsibility."
Facebook spokesperson Marian Heath says the social network takes safety very seriously and does plenty to prevent suicides. On the upper right corner of each Facebook wall posting, there is a small blue x used for reporting problem postings. Clicking on the blue x opens a window with choices you can make by clicking on check circles. The user can navigate to a check circle indicating "self harm," and thereby alert Facebook to the problem posting.
"We try to make it easy and intuitive for someone to quickly report something they find that's disturbing," says Heath. "We have people on staff 24 hours a day to review these self-harm reports and respond to them."
Heath declined to say how many self-harm reports Facebook receives and how many staffers are assigned to review them. She said those staffers have, in the past, contacted law enforcement and professional suicide counselors to intervene. But she declined to characterize how often those types of contacts have actually happened.