Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Suicidal Friends Alert

Several months ago Simone Back announced on Facebook that she had taken an overdose, and even though she had over 1,000 friends, no one came to her rescue. Similarly, last year Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi announced in a status update that he intended to jump off of the George Washington bridge. Both individuals are now dead.

Instead of going to Back's home to see if she was okay, "friends" argued with each other on her wall, debating whether she actually had overdosed or if she was bluffing. A few out of towners tried to get her address, but no one local bothered. It's easy for me to say that I would have gone right over and done something. Maybe Back was the attention seeking type, so everyone ignored her message. But even so, we all have our "boy who cried wolf" moments, and at the same time we all have our breaking points.

This is largely due to the Bystander Effect, as shown in this cartoon I posted. Simply put, the bystander effect occurs when there are a large amount of people and something bad happens to a single person. The more people there are, the less likely each person is to help the person in need of assistance ( The average Facebook user has about 130 friends, plus it sounds like many people posted on Back's status, thus creating the Bystander Effect (Facebook stats).

Facebook has responded by creating a way for concerned friends to report their suicidal friends through the Help Center. The help page now has the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as well as the number for Samaritans, a UK group.

On the business end this looks great for Facebook. While they are clearly not the cause of these suicides, they've recognized that they could have an impact on the prevention aspect, showing their flair for social responsibility. While this latest prevention effort is noteworthy and commendable, it is actually a very hard to find feature and was poorly publicized to general users. You can find the help page here. My "next step" suggestion for Facebook would be to notify all users about this new feature, since it's clearly not reached every user. How difficult is it to send an email?

Also, the feature allows you to post the link of the suicidal content, the date it was posted, the full name of the person who posted it, and any other relevant information. I'm not sure what sort of privacy laws would be involved here, but it would be smart to suggest under relevant information to suggest a location where the suicide may occur, whether it's a home address or landmark. Facebook could easily track down the same message 1,000 people saw, "Took all my pills, be dead soon, bye bye everyone," but what good would that do 911 for someone in immediate need of assistance? A suicide like hers could only have been prevented by someone who knew where she lived, whether they physically went to save her or they called authorities. If I send out a help message the police couldn't do anything unless a friend told them where I live.

Have any of your friends ever posted suicidal content on their Facebook or Twitter?

To report suicidal content, you can fill out this form.

To "like" Samaritans on Facebook, click here.

Sources: stats

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Bystander Effect

Bystander Effect. Source:

Generation Gap

Cyber Bullying

Cyber bullying. Source:

Facebook Meets Real World


Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Likejacking seems to have become one of the biggest social engineering scams in the past year. The term "likejacking," which is when a person is tricked into posting a site link they don't actually like, caught on in mid-2010.

I was the victim of likejacking a few months ago. On my news feed I saw a friend post a link to a video and say, "This is the funniest thing I've seen in a long time! Had me in tears," so naturally, I click on it! It was supposed to be some outtake Harry Potter video, can you blame me? It takes me to what looks like a Facebook application, and without reading the details I simply hit "accept." I unknowingly allowed this third party to post things all over my Facebook. It reposted the exact same message I saw my friend post as my status! Additionally, it randomly selected several of my friends and posted the link directly on their walls, as if it had come directly from me. My cousin sent me a message to warn me because she had recently received the same message from other friends and knew it was a scam. Not long after I noticed the same scam except this time it was an application that claimed to allow you to see your first Facebook status update ever. While I saw several friends give in to that, I knew better.

While most of these have been harmless, some are quite alarming. A recent likejacking scam claims to have a link to a girl committing suicide on webcam. The message reads:
"Jessy, 22 yrs Girl from Miami committed Suicide before a Cam after breakup. First time a Live suicide death video of true lovers in the history on a Cam"

As with the scam I experienced, clicking on the link takes users to a page that intentionally tricks them into re-posting the message and link. This scammer didn't pick something funny to share, they picked something that would be horrific to watch, but obviously not horrible enough that people ignored the message. Suicide is one of those dark things that is intrinsically mystifying and interesting. It's slightly disturbing that so many people would want to see a video of a person committing suicide, but I personally love to read lists of unusual deaths (like the woman who died trying to break into her boyfriend's house via chimney), and I know that suicide stories are one of those things for other people. It reminds me of the movie Untraceable where the killer has a victim on a webcam and the more people that tune in to watch, the faster the person will die. Though people know the person is dying, people can't help but log in just for a moment to see for themselves. This is probably how so many people were tricked by the recent scam.

I guess users, including myself, should take a little more time reading Facebook and Twitter application agreements before clicking, "I Accept."

Do you think it's disturbing that people would want to see someone commit suicide on webcam?


Monday, February 28, 2011

Social Media Suicide

There is now a website called, "Web 2.0 Suicide Machine," with the slogan, "Meet Your Real Neighbours Again!"
The website helps you delete all of your social media profiles, delete all your "friends" on social media and, "do away with your Web2.0 alter-ego." Instead of the term "delete," the Suicide Machine uses the word "kill" synonymously. Kill your friends. Kill your profile. Cheery, eh? The noose logo really tops it off.

How It Works
You click the social media platform you want to delete. In a form on the homepage you will enter your username and password information. The website will let you watch as your profile is slowly "killed." They delete your profile information, your photos, your friends, one by one. By using the website the site claims it will only take 52 minutes (based on a 1,000 friend Facebook) versus the 9 hours and 35 minutes it would take to delete it piece by piece manually.   

Anti-Social VS Pro-Social
While it's quite clever to create a site like this to promote pro-social behavior, the morbid angle they took doesn't sit right with me. Also, I do think that social media can be a good thing! Of course it's terrible when people let it take over their lives, but the complete absence of social media could lead to missed professional opportunities and social ostracism.

How did I even find out about this website? Social media. Social media allows users to share news articles, blogs, and websites instantly, and sharing information is not a bad thing. This site is sending a great message, but in this society people need to get to know friends on and off the screen. You can learn a lot about a person by what links and thoughts they share on the Facebook and Twitter that you might not otherwise see. People who can't handle social media and let it consume their day to day activities have other psychological issues. It's unfair to solely blame social media for the problems people have. Some people are crazy, social media or no social media.

Facebook Fights Back
Thought only about 900 people have left social media via Social Suicide since December, Facebook decided to fight back by blocking the IP address. The process, which involved submitted login information to the site, is in violations of the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities of Facebook. It may be only a matter of time until other sites like Twitter and LinkedIn follow suit.

Personally, I find this website unsettling and slightly sadistic. Here is an excerpt from the site's FAQ:
If I start killing my 2.0-self, can I stop the process?

If I start killing my 2.0-self, can YOU stop the process?

Anyone else beginning to feel uneasy? Watch the following video to get a better idea of what the website is all about. 

web 2.0 suicide machine - untwitter from moddr_ on Vimeo.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Cyber bullying and Social Networking

A tragedy that was plastered all over the news in March 2010 was the suicide of Alexis Pilkington. While her parents have argued that cyber bullying was not the cause of her death, it inspired many anti-bullying movements, including this heartfelt YouTube video.

Cyber Bullying is when people take traditional bullying (teasing, calling people bad names, harrassment) online to social media websites and other forms of online communication. Straubhaar states that it is when "youth" do this, but I think bullying can occur at any age (Straubhaar, 425). 

Although the highly publicized suicide of Phoebe Prince in January 2010 was caused my traditional bullying, cyber bullying began after her death, with malicious comments posted on her Facebook memorial page. You have to ask yourself, why would someone do that? Clearly, they would not get a reaction of out Phoebe postmortem, so they must have been looking for the attention from everyone else.

A New Jersey middle school principal sent an email to parents asking them to get their children off social networking sites because of the antisocial behaviors they cause. The guidance counselor at the school said 75% of her time was spent dealing with students and their problems stemming from social networking websites. I don't think this is an odd statistic at all! In fact, I expect this. People are communicating via social media more and more. My friend Teresa and I used to talk on the phone for hours in middle school. If I was in middle school today, that conversation might have taken place via Twitter at-replies or Facebook wallposts or chats. If before I had a fight with Teresa on the phone, the guidance counselor would not have said "Telephones cause drama with kids." Social media, like telephones, may facilitate drama and cyberbullying, but I would never say that it causes it.

One times in middle school these two girls three-way called an unknowing girl, and girl 1 coaxed her into speaking badly about girl 2. This same scenario could easily happen if girls 1 and 2 were at one house and girl 1 initiated a Facebook chat with the unknowing girl. Bullying hasn't necessarily changed. It's the method in which people do it that has changed.

Personally, I think middle shoolers should be allowed on social networking website, with some parental monitoring and time restrictions. As a middle schooler I remember using AIM, Xanga, Livejournal and Myspace. My parents didn't monitor me at all, and looking back I was probably a little unsafe with my privacy, but I never experienced online bullying. If you notice your child has become addicted to the computer, put time limits on their usage and encourage participation in sports and school groups. Gluing yourself to the computer screen at any age is a problem, but especially to people so young. The more time they spend on the computer, the more potential for trouble. What did I do on AIM as a kid? Probably a lot of small talk, but I can specifically remember a ton of gossip. My mom would get upset if I spent too much time on the computer, and now I understand why.

The information gap is growing. The knowledge gap hypothesis, as explained by Straubhaar, is when the information-rich get richer faster than the information-poor, even though new information technologies are coming out that help both parties (Straubhaar, 436). While this section of the book is mainly talking about the difference between social groups as defined by wealth, race, and gender, there is quite the information gap between generations. There are over 500 million active users on facebook, and more than 50% of these users log on at least once a day. I did argue that bullying can happen at any age, but I do think it's more prevalent with the youth, the main group of people on Facebook. Sometimes I think kid's parents don't know how to help them or prevent problems because many of them have little to no experience with social media.

What do you think:

Has social networking increased bullying or does it just make bullying easier for kids that are bullies already?

NY Daily News
Finding Dulcinea
Media Now: Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology
Facebook Stats

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Violence in Video Games

A highly debated topic, violence in video games continues to attract attention. This article on Lazy Gamer opens with the line:
"While we all know that videogame violence doesn’t cause violence in society the mainstream media still love prancing on about this."
It seems the greatest protesters of this idea are gamers themselves. The article goes on to criticize a poor experiment by the Munwha Broadcasting Company in South Korea where they turned off the power at an internet cafe and concluded video games lead to violence after the gamers in the cafe were angered. I have to side with Lazy Gamer when they wrote that this is the stupidest experiment ever.

Source: Lazy Gamer

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Media and Antisocial Behavior

Almost every media class I've been in has brought up the question, "Does the media cause violence?" Violence, prejudice and drug abuse are just a few antisocial behaviors discussed in Media Now. This blog will explore how the media may lead to antisocial behavior, for the class COM3332, New Communication Technology, at Florida State University. In particular, I will focus on the impacts of computer media and its relation with teen suicide and cyber bullying.

Check out these blogs from my classmates:
Through the Eyes of Egypt
Anti-Abortion Protest