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Facebook Suicide: Site Takes Measures to Prevent Future Incidents

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By Sami K. Martin, Christian Post Reporter
March 29, 2012|4:06 pm

Social media site Facebook is taking steps to hopefully prevent more people from using the site to broadcast their suicides. The news comes days after Cynthia Lee took her own life but posted moment-by-moment details on her Facebook page.

"We're working with other internet companies at formulating a list of best practices, so that there's an understanding and a consensus, along with experts in the suicide prevention community, for online properties dealing with this issue," Facebook's spokesman, Frederic Wolens, told ABC News.

The issue of suicidal messages left on Facebook has risen with its increased popularity, and many fear that this is a new trend. Cynthia Lee, 31, wrote, "The fumes are suffocating," as her room filled with the poison released by a deliberately set charcoal fire.

Friends on the site begged her to open the windows and put out the fire, but Lee was determined to end her life.

"They fill my eyes with tears. Don't write me anymore. Too late. My room is filled with fumes. I just posted another picture. Even while I'm dying, I still want Facebook," she wrote before succumbing to the fumes.

"More and more, as Facebook becomes more widespread and pervasive, it's becoming a better and better mirror for what's going on in the real world," Wolens said. "With suicides going on in the real world, the suicide touches some part of Facebook, whether it's the signs leading up to it, or people who wrote things on their Facebook."

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The site already has an application designed to connect those who spot suicidal messages with professional counselors, but that is about as much as Facebook can do. Wolens told ABC that Facebook cannot scan for suicidal words or messages; it would be nearly impossible.

"We have a system where when we receive a report of a user that's in distress, that goes into our safety team, which reviews the report to make sure it's an authentic report, and after we've verified it, we reach out to the person who has reported it and the distressed user," Wolens explained.

Yet critical time may pass before help is actually able to get to the person in distress. And for those who have already taken some sort of action: swallowing pills, suffocating, or cutting, help may arrive too late. Wolens recognized that problem, but says that Facebook is committed to helping people, not causing harm.

"Regardless of the size of the problem, we have a tremendous opportunity to help," he said. "Eventually we'll be able to have the best practices that we can go out and distribute to other Internet companies."

 

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