Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Status: Dead. Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010.

“The more stories that appear about young people having killed themselves in your area, the more (suicide) might appear to you to be a reasonable response to a particular kind of crisis.” -Dr Jonathon Scourfield

A couple of days ago I read a Facebook status that listed 8 or 9 names and said, “At least they are all together now in heaven.” It was a collection of names of young people, mostly girls, who have supposedly taken their own lives recently.

The death of only one person is tragic. The death of a veritable baseball team of teenagers, all hooked up to Facebook, is, frankly, a little fishy.

Please understand where I’m coming from on this. I was involved when one FB member chose to disrupt suicide prevention boards by stalking herself under a different name, an alter-ego that was threatening to rape and kill her. So many people believed the ruse that they were putting jobs and lives on hold, desperately calling law enforcement.

The young woman finally came clean and admitted she did it for attention, but a few months later she was back, running her own suicide prevention group and at the same time sending private messages to vulnerable girls telling them to “just do it.”

Not long after, another FB member supposedly lost her baby daughter when her boyfriend reportedly beat the child to death. She picked the wrong person to try to manipulate; I happen to be in the media, and it’s my job to investigate things. I discovered irrefutable evidence that no such event had taken place, but plenty of people on FB continue to believe her story.

Where’s the harm, you might ask? After all, it’s just Facebook! Well, there is a lot of harm. You’ve heard, I’m sure, of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Eventually, a wolf really did come a-calling, but by that time no one believed in wolves anymore. Conversely, people on FB do occasionally commit suicide, or lose family members. The fallout of the fakers is that when these things do happen, people don’t believe it. They have been stung before.

In the UK in 1998, there was a widely publicized rash of teen suicides attributable to Facebook groups. Even the Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, weighed in, warning youth that Facebook causes suicide. There was only one catch – statistically, there had been no rise in teen suicides, no “suicide pacts” identified. It was all a false perception.

But there is an even greater danger. There IS a statistical link between suicide victims and people that feel close to them, either in real life or virtually. One person commits suicide, and friends (or fans) of theirs are at great risk to do the same. These are called “suicide clusters” or “copycat suicides.”

One of the factors that goes into these “suicide clusters” is all the attention the dead person gets. I understand the need for mourning friends to put up memorial pages on Facebook, but in doing so, they might be giving that individual more attention in death than in life – sending a very risky message to others who are depressed and vulnerable. This is why I have said that if a member of SAS commits suicide, I will not put up an RIP page.

If you are someone who has “committed suicide on Facebook” to silently watch as people post loving messages to your profile, or you claim to have several personalities and must “kill” some (perhaps my discussion about Multiple Personality Disorder will come another day), please reflect for a moment about how you will feel if your stunt results in a real death.

We all need attention. But there are better ways to get it.

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