Facebook Empowers Friends to Prevent Suicide

by Larry Magid

When Anne Collier and I wrote our long out-of-print book,  MySpace Unraveled, we pointed out that MySpace was the largest referrer to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We noted that kids were alive because of the way friends had reached out to save their friends.

Facebook, of course, took MySpace’s place in that regard but now Facebook and the Lifeline have teamed up to make it easier to report friends in distress and for people who are suicidal to have a live chat with a prevention specialist.

In a CBS News CNET podast interview, the Lifeline’s Lidia Bernik told me that “a lot of people would rather communicate via chat or text, as opposed to calling.” To that end, Facebook offers a direct link to a Lifeline page where people can have a live confidential chat with an expert.

In her blog post about the announcement Anne Collier called this the “911 of the social web,” adding that friends can be “first responders.” She said, “Neither a Web site nor a national hotline can immediately or fully be ‘there’  for someone if the people on that person’s friends list – the people he or she interacts with from day to day – aren’t there to notice.”

Important development

To me, this is a natural evolution in the long term relationship between Facebook and the Lifeline and it’s an important development for anyone who understands how important social media has become in so many people’s lives.

The bottom line is that friends need to help friends. And being a friend today means using any means available – including social media — to support each other.

Bernik said that if you see someone who is in distress, the best response is to reach out to that person directly but “if you’re not comfortable doing that,” you can use the Facebook reporting tool to make sure that Facebook reaches out. Facebook will only pass on information to the Lifeline or authorities in the event of a “life threatening emergency.”

The National Suicide Prevent Lifeline can also be reached at 800 273-TALK (8255).

For more, see the guest post of U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin linked from Facebook’s safety page.

Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook. ConnectSafely also serves on Facebook’s Safety Advisory Board and helped organize a meeting last year between Facebook officials and suicide prevention specialists, including Lifeline staff.

This post also appears on Forbes.com.

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