Two years ago in the United Kingdom, 42-year-old Simone Back decided to take her own life. But first, she made it Facebook official.
At 10:53 p.m. on Christmas Day, she posted: “Took all my pills be dead soon bye bye everyone.”
The response from her more than 1,000 Facebook friends was 148 comments debating the message, some calling her a liar or taunting her, saying she wasn’t a kid anymore.
Not one of the people who saw the status called the police. Back was found dead in her flat 14 hours later.
It’s a story that’s becoming more popular, especially in teens.
Jamey Rodemeyer was 14-years-old when he became one of the 100 Americans that die each day from suicide. Bullied because of his sexuality, the teen looked to Lady Gaga for inspiration and became a rallying cry for bullied gay and bisexual teens. He posted a final message to Twitter before he died in September of 2011.
Even in death, Rodemeyer was taunted, with some commenters saying they were glad he was dead.
In teens, cyberbullying and suicide are tightly connected. Bully victims are between two and nine times more likely to commit suicide than non-victims. One study found bullying contributes to half of suicides in teens.
Even though cyberbulling plays out online, easily viewed by everyone with access to a social network, it has proven difficult to stop. Principals, teachers and parents can’t watch over students’ screens at home to make sure they play nice, especially as teens flock to mobile devices.
Teens are hyper connected and these days, choose to attack, and to die, in plain sight. Posting a status about a classmate is as easy as clicking send. It takes a few seconds and with the connected networks available to teens, is easily spread.
Forty-two percent of kids say they have been bullied online. Ninety percent of bullying online goes unreported.
In the world of psychology, it's called diffusion of responsibility. Seeing a clear cry for help or an emotional status from a friend on Facebook, users think someone else will do something — someone who knows the person better will get involved.
They move on because the whole thing would be too messy, better just scroll on to the pictures of your friend’s new kitten.
Now, you can do something. It’s as easy as clicking a couple of buttons on Facebook.
In honor of National Suicide Prevention Day on Monday, the Obama administration rolled out a new nationwide prevention strategy for suicide targeting veterans and young Americans.
As part of the initiative, Facebook is starting a flag feature where users can quickly report suicidal comments posted on Facebook. After a post is flagged, the user receives an email urging them to call the national suicide hotline or chat online with a counselor.
Keith Campbell, the department head of the University psychology department, said an easy flag feature for posts would lessen the diffusion of responsibility and hopefully, help prevent suicides.
“People could take that very seriously and do something,” he said. “There are a lot of people who would be willing to respond. This eliminates the diffusion of responsibility by giving an easy way to do it.”
The “violent or harmful behaviour” flag joins another for “hate speech” and a specific menu for content harassing the flagger or a friend.
These Facebook flags are just the beginning of addressing a wide problem of cyberbullying in teens. Fixing the problem will require plans with involvement beyond Lady Gaga and some principals.
Cyberbullying requires participation from the administrations of social networks. CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Formspring should be leading the campaign against cyberbullying instead of ignoring the problem social networks helped to create.
With the new status-reporting initiative, Facebook has taken the first step towards starting that campaign.
To report a status on Facebook:
1. Place your cursor over the upper right-hand corner of the status and click the arrow that appears.
2. Click “report story or spam.”
3. A message reading “This story has been marked as spam. Undo. If this story is abusive, please file a report” will appear in place of the status. Click “report.”
4. A menu entitled “Is this post about you or a friend?” will appear and the user can select options for harmful behaviour, hate speech or harassing messages.