Franklin James Cook

Two Lives Saved through Facebook, Twitter Communications

In Intervention, Media, Prevention on April 5, 2009 at 9:53 am

By Franklin Cook, SPNAC Editor

The dangerous nature of some Internet communication has become part of the fabric of our society, including when it comes to suicide, as in the recent cases of Megan Meier, a victim of cyberstalking by an adult, and Abraham Briggs, who killed himself with a webcam audience watching.

It is heartening, as a counterpoint, to share two stories from this week’s news in which the Internet served as a medium for preventiing suicide. I want to highlight the phrase “served as a medium,” for the Internet itself is just a tube through which communication flows, and it is what people do with the communication that matters. These two stories are really not so much about the Internet as they are about what people must do to prevent suicide, regardless of the “channel” through which a person thinking about suicide communicates his or her dilemma to us.

The first story, from reporter Patrick Sawer in the London Telegraph, is about a “depressed 16-year-old boy … on the outskirts of Oxford, England … [who] had been chatting to a girl in Maryland, USA, on the social networking website [Facebook] when he told her he was about to kill himself.”

Fearing for his life, the American girl alerted her mother, who then sparked a string of emergency messages between Maryland Police, the White House in Washington, the British Embassy in Washington, Scotland Yard and finally Thames Valley Police.

The story is extraordinary because of the great distance involved, both geographically and coincidentally (not to mention that a host of agencies, several at the highest levels, were constructively involved), but in fact, the girl simply followed steps broadly recommended in suicide prevention training: Take any mention of suicide seriously–treating it as a potential life-or-death matter– and inform a person who can help about the danger.

If everyone did that–and if every agency contacted responded as affirmatively as even the White House and the British Embassy did in this case–thousands of lives would be saved.

Oxfordshire police commander Chief Supt Brendan O’Dowda praised those on both sides of the Atlantic who were involved in the rescue, [saying] “When it did find its way to Thames Valley Police, it would have been quite easy for any number of people to decide there wasn’t enough information. We really didn’t have much to go on. It was just scant information.”

“But due to the tenacity and professionalism of a number of people, we managed to pin down a number of addresses, then went through the painful and laborious process of visiting the addresses to find the lad. It took up time and effort but it was time and effort absolutely well spent.”

The second story is about a rescue initiated after a Twitter communication threatening suicide was sent to actress Demi Moore. According to a report from Selena Hernandez of CBS affiliate KTVT in Dallas-Fort Worth, a man in Frisco, Texas, and a friend of his in Idaho took the action necessary to save a life:

Daniel Morton … said he happened to see the disturbing “tweet” on Demi Moore’s page. “I noticed it looked like a good train of texts, tweets talking about how she wanted to kill herself. Demi responded, ‘I hope this is not a joke.’ At that point I started looking into this woman’s site to see if it was a joke or not.”

He contacted another online Twitter friend, Kim Aiton, In Idaho. Together, the two would combine their resources to help a woman they never met, one who’s name they didn’t even know … Morton said he spent an hour on the phone with the San Jose Police Department, until Aiton found the woman’s real name. “She found the woman’s true identity, gave it to me, I gave it to the police. They pulled it up on the computer — bam they matched the photo to the driver’s license. They knew it was her, so they sent the ‘lights and sirens’ out there to get her.”

San Jose Police found the 48-year-old woman unharmed, some two hours after her initial posting. The department said it was overwhelmed with calls from all over the country — and world — all responding to Moore’s tweet.

Same response, same outcome: Suicide is taken seriously. People and helpers work together to reach out to someone who might be in danger. A life is saved.

Linguist Marshall McLuhan famously wrote “the medium is the message,” which is certainly important to understand if one is studying communications theory. But in the person-to-person interactions that make up our daily lives, especially when someone in pain reaches out for help, the message is the message, and when it comes to suicide, however the is message is conveyed, the human-to-human response ought to be: “Suicide? What can I do to keep you safe? Let’s get the help we need. Let’s all do this together.”

[The abridged URL for this post is  http://tinyurl.com/2LivesSaved .]

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  1. In addition to recognizing such acts of caring outreach I think it is also important to recognize the ongoing efforts of suicide prevention organizations to reach out using new media. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, SPAN USA, AFSP, and the Jed Foundation post blogs and maintain active social networking profiles. I will be joining their efforts soon.

  2. […] of these young people followed the same course of action that has been emphasized generally in SPNAC coverage, as follows: “Suicide is taken seriously. People and helpers work together to reach out to someone […]

  3. Every forty seconds, someone dies at the cause of their own hands. Some people choose to live in tormented silence for the fear of not being taken seriously, or causing altered perceptions against their own persons.

    Everyone has the right to be heard and believed and suicide is not a joke especially for those living through it. It is irrational in nature and therefore cannot be rationalized and one simply cannot “get over it” and ” pick themselves up and dust themselves off” by altering thoughts to see reason.
    Suicide takes away a persons hope and leaves a sense of great loss and emptiness behind.
    Even if one does not suspect their loved ones or friends of suicidal tendecies or thoughts, it would be a good rule of thumb to ask and perhaps make it a topic of family discussions now and again because sometimes one does not think how easily the smallest of hurdles can turn into insurmountable mountains.

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