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?