Don’t Blame the Technology for Teen’s Death, It’s Our Failure

Dr. John Grohol posted about the recent suicide of a 12 year old girl that was broadcast on Facebook Live, and the corresponding uproar, and I happen to think he really hits the nail on the head.

At the close of 2016, 12-year-old Katelyn Nicole Davis decided that she had had enough of her life in a small, rural town in Georgia. So she did what most teens do nowadays — she took to social media to share her feelings of angst, depression, and hopelessness. She was, by all accounts, a person doing the best she could in coping with depression and an alleged abuser within her own home.

What she did, however, is becoming an increasingly common and disturbing consequence of our society virtually ignoring people who are troubled by suicide and suicidal thoughts. She decided to livestream her death on Facebook Live.

This is upsetting to people: “How could they allow such videos to be online?!” “Why doesn’t Facebook and YouTube do something about this?!” But the outrage misses the point completely.

He’s right. We’re so appalled by the technology that allows us to live stream anything, as if somehow that’s the problem, that we’ve forgotten that a 12 year old girl is dead. Live streaming has been around for a relatively long time now, the only difference is that now it’s ridiculously easy. Anyone with a cell phone and a Facebook account can live stream, which means that pretty much anything that can be streamed, will be.

The technology is just a tool. How people use it, is how they use it. Blaming Twitter for bullying, or Facebook for live streams of death and violence, completely misses the point. Without Facebook Live, that little girl would still have been suicidal and still not had any support available. Only none of us would have known about her death.

We seem to be more bothered by that fact than the fact of her actual death. Because of Facebook Live, we had to hear about it, and people may have had to actually see it. How much nicer life was when all this technology didn’t connect us and 12 year old girls could just commit suicide without it being our problem.

Obviously any child driven to such desperate measures, and left without hope, is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy for her family, her friends, her local community, and it’s a tragedy for all of us. Because she should have had other options. She should have had the necessary support, a safe place to turn, a way out that did not include ending her own life. But society didn’t give her that.

Today is #BellLetsTalk day on Twitter. It’s the day that the Bell Company in Canada sets aside to get people to talk about mental health, and raises money to benefit mental health resources across Canada. I’ve already outed myself on Twitter as a depression survivor, because it’s important that everyone know that they are not alone in this.

There may not be enough resources out there yet, but there are others who have been where they are, and have survived. Perhaps if young Katelyn had known that she would still be here, trying to reach out on Facebook Live and looking for other people she could talk to, instead of being a news story and source of outrage because she happened to be using a new technology.

Let’s remember there are real people using these social media tools, and focus more on them and how we treat each other online and off, instead of starting panic about the technology and forgetting about each other.

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