I Just Can’t Take It Any More

Facebook might try to save your life.

In the current issue of PC Magazine are “10 Things You Should Know About Facebook’s New Privacy Policy“. Most of them are pretty straightforward. Facebook is archiving every like, friend request and message you send and letting advertisers use that information on and off Facebook. If your messages or statuses seem to indicate that you intend to do harm to yourself or others, Facebook might intervene. In other words, if I post that I am depressed and want to kill myself, Facebook might put me in contact with agencies for Suicide prevention. If I say I plan to commit a crime, they might send someone to arrest me.

I’m not sure what to think about that.

I think the crime thing won’t be all that effective. It will catch roughly the same amount of criminals as the “are you a terrorist?” question. If anything, it may lead to situations where someone making a joke is taken a little too seriously (as profiled on This American Life a few years ago).

But suicide isn’t a joke.

Last Christmas a 42 year old woman posted that she had taken an overdose and would be dead soon. None of her 1048 Facebook friends helped her, called the police, called her, called anyone. Some chose to mock her online.

This woman is not alone.

In response to these and other incidents, and calls from people in the industry, Facebook has formed a partnership with the Samaritans to Prevent Suicide, and also actively takes down pro-suicide Facebook groups.

I think these are both good things, but it disturbs me that they are necessary. How close are we really to our friends, to anybody? Are we keeping track of what’s going on in each other’s lives, are we encouraging each other when we’re down? Or are we just voyeuristic, checking up on old girlfriends, trying to figure out who’s married, successful, or not?

We were talking about the Good Samaritan in church this Sunday, and the number of people who passed by without stopping to help. In the case of the 42 year old woman, not only did 1048 people pass by, some stopped to point and laugh.

What are we doing?

It shouldn’t be up to Facebook to step in to save people who are lost like this. It should be up to us. And if we’re not really ready to care about what’s going on with our hundreds of ‘friends’, then maybe we shouldn’t be friends anymore.

Maybe all 1048 friends thought someone else had stepped in, and that they didn’t need to. Maybe they didn’t think she was serious. It’s understandable, and it’s sad. We’re sharing more of ourselves than ever, but more and more we’re doing it in a crowded room, where no one will really hear us. I’ve joked a lot about not being worried about what I put out on the net because there’s too much information glut for anyone to really take notice of me.

It’s probably true.

It’s a good thing Facebook is doing, but maybe part of “loving our neighbors” is seeing what they’re up to online.

NOTE: I didn’t know about any of these stories until doing a little research. Is this something I just missed, or have other people never heard about these cases?

Oh, and just so we’re clear, I’m fine. 


Filed under Faith + Life, Trube On Tech

8 responses to “I Just Can’t Take It Any More

  1. Chuck Conover

    “We’re sharing more of ourselves than ever …” but mainly we share trivial, just touching the surface, nonsense. I know I am on the older side of the scale, but I would hope that if there was something truly important, we have people close enough to us that we could reach out in person; Pick up the phone, walk across the street, touch. The most negative thing about Facebook (and the internet in general) is how it de-personalizes our interactions with eachother.

    Ben – I am glad you hear you are fine.

    Let’s talk.

    • I think you’re right about social media depersonalizing some interactions, but I also know I can’t be a Luddite either. I’m going to be in this social media culture in one form or another for the foreseeable future, and it’s important for me to really think about what that means. I like the blogging better though, people actually take the time to work out their feelings, and I feel like I’ve made a few genuine friends here. Facebook’s just where I look at the latest funny thing George Takei posted most days, but I do try to pay attention to how others are feeling, and what’s going on.

      Indeed we’ll talk, just hopefully not about problems with work 😉

  2. What happened to that woman is an atrocity – and I’m sure she’s not the only one. There are a lot of ways that Facebook can help people, but in the end, it’s up to us. When a natural disaster hits, or they’re are riots in Egypt, people can use it to let their loved ones know they’re okay. But terrorist groups also use it to communicate.
    As far as “friends”, most FB’ers add friends without a second thought. I have less than 200 on my personal profile – most are my very extended family, co-workers and old classmates. But my teenage niece has thousands of so-called friends, most she has never met. All in all, FB friends are (usually) not real friends.
    Facebook is public now and shareholders are going to want to make money off it. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people start deleting their accounts for some other social media.
    So easily people forget that this is the internet – be careful what you post and check your privacy settings.
    And I’m glad you’re okay, Ben. 😉

    • I can’t say I’m very careful about who I add as friends (I have closer to 400). But there are definitely some people who pass my newsfeed who I do worry about. Sometimes it’s not easy to know what to do, especially if you haven’t really talked in a few years, but you can always pray. I try to do at least that as often as possible.

  3. Good post Ben. I ask myself the same questions every day.

    The bigger problem is practicing what we preach. Its easy to say we should help our fellow human beings… its another thing to actually do it. I actually make an effort to find out if someone needs help if they look like they might need help. If it looks like a situation could be serious, I will often inconvenience myself to do so. I hope I’m not special in this.

    • That’s a great way to live, and definitely something I aspire to, if I don’t always achieve it. More and more I’m beginning to think about the ways I’m interacting with the world online. This has always been an interest of mine, but even more so since I started blogging regularly, and following the Foxconn situation. I care deeply about the costs of our technology, both physical and to our relationships, and I think it’s important that we think about faith in relationship to these issues as well. Thanks Adam!

  4. MomentEye

    I’m a bit more inclined to be cynical about moves like this.
    Facebook are using the emotional edge case of suicide to push through a precedent.
    What, exactly, counts as indicating that you might harm yourself?
    Where is the line between getting involved and meddling.

    FWIW I used to volunteer for the Samaritans, so I’m not unsympathetic to the aims. But a large proportion of what hotline callers actually wanted was to be able to talk to someone in a non-judgmental environment.
    I would be quite concerned that Facebook (big, everywhere, never-forget Facebook) would then become one more place where you cannot freely express yourself or talk about your problems.

    Something must be done != We must do this thing

    • Thank you for the perspective MomentEye. I always appreciate it when someone with a little more direct experience than me weighs in. You are right that it sets a concerning precedent for what Facebook can do, though I have always felt Facebook (or the internet in general) is not a good place to air all of your private troubles and thoughts. It is not a non-judgmental environment to begin with, and I do think that the generations coming up need to have a little more sense about what they put out there in this never delete forum.

      But again, what bothers me the most is that in a site that in some way is supposed to promote friendship and relationships, people are really ignoring each other. I think it does say something about us when we see this suffering and do nothing to intervene, or worse choose to mock these people. No matter what Facebook’s policies are, we need to take a hard look at the ways we interact with this medium.

      Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

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