Facebook, other social networks confront high-stakes dilemma over suicide videos


Amanda Hebert felt powerless as she watched a Facebook video of her 32-year-old friend taking her own life.

In the 12-minute video, a police officer begged Hebert’s friend to think of her two daughters and to let him help. Hebert called her friend, who streamed the suicide online, only to see her phone calls ignored in the video.

For Hebert, the pain from her friend’s death didn’t end there. Despite reports to Menlo Park-based Facebook by friends and the Anne Arundel County police in Maryland, she said the tech firm took at least six hours to pull down the video. It made its way to another website, where it now has hundreds of thousands of views.

“It’s literally still out there haunting her friends and family,” Hebert said.

Social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter’s Periscope have made videos simpler for people to share online, but now these companies are in a race against time to respond quickly to posts depicting self harm — before they go viral.

Balancing the risks of suicide contagion with free speech, newsworthiness and other factors, these companies’ complex decisions to leave a video up or pull it down can mean the difference between life and death for people attempting suicide.

Sometimes, leaving a video up can allow family and friends to reach out to the person or call law enforcement for help.

“It’s a hard place for these companies to be, to make decisions about what they’re going to allow and what they’re not going to allow, because it becomes a slippery slope quickly,” said Daniel Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And as more people share their lives — and in some cases, their deaths — online, tech firms …read more

Source:: The Mercury News

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