Social Media Responsibility and Suicide Contagion

In the wake of Robin Williams death earlier this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about how different people reacted, what they said on social media and this Freakonomics podcast about suicide.

The question I keep coming back to is this. If there is a demonstrable increase in the number of suicides after one well-publicized suicide, and that increase can be tied back to how that suicide is portrayed in the media, what kind of responsibility do we have when it comes to social media? Should we all be keeping the standards put together by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for safe reporting?

Truthfully, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be. You don’t know how many people are going to see something you put out there on Twitter or Facebook. I wrote a few things on my child abuse survivor site, that I know were only seen by maybe a few hundred people, but how many of them could be on the verge of being suicidal themselves? I simply have no way of knowing, and I hate to think that something I said about Williams death made suicide seem glamorous or like a good idea. But what if one of those posts had gove viral, and was seen by millions of people? Could I deal with the fact that, like the Academy, I was potentially sending the exact wrong message about suicide to millions of people?

The tweet was a sweet message, but it was also the last thing anyone with suicidal tendencies needs to see. What responsibility do I have to the people who follow me on social media? After all, I’m not a professional journalist, why should I pay attention to media ethics and stuff like that, I’m just a guy posting on a blog? Technology, and social media have made journalists of all of us. I may not have the audience of the New York Times, and I don’t have a codified code of ethics, but surely I have some responsibility to the small audience that I do have. In a situation like this, I think we’d all do well to stop and consider what we are saying about suicide, and who we are saying it to.

You never know who’s reading, and where their head might be.

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