SAN FRANCISCO — Faced with an alarming phenomenon, people taking their own lives on its live-streaming service, Facebook is stepping up efforts to prevent suicides.
On Wednesday, Facebook announced it will integrate real-time suicide prevention tools into Facebook Live. It also said it will offer live-chat support from crisis support organizations such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the
The goal, says Facebook, to connect people in distress with people who can help.
In January, a 14-year-old girl hung herself in her Florida foster home and a 33-year-old aspiring actor shot himself in a car on a Los Angeles street, both on Facebook Live. A young Turkish man who had broken up with his girlfriend told viewers before committing suicide on Facebook Live in October: "No one believed when I said will kill myself. So watch this."
Public suicide is not new, but technologies such as live streaming have helped these haunting public acts reach far more people.
Facebook, which opened up its Live feature to the public last year, has been pushing its more than 1.8 billion users to try out the feature, rolling out an advertising campaign and featuring live streams in users' news feeds.
Suicide is still a rare event on Facebook Live, which launched last year, and numbers are hard to come by.
According to Dan Reidenberg, the executive director of Save.org, who advises Facebook, there have been seven known cases since live streaming became available, not all of them on Facebook. Facebook spokesman William Nevius refused to say how many people have broadcast on Facebook Live as they have taken their own lives.
"Unfortunately we have now seen a growing series of young people and adults committing suicide and showing this on Facebook Live," says Kaslow, the former president of the
"There always has been this concern: Will something like this cause an epidemic or rash?" she said. "The answer is: We don't know yet."
After consulting suicide prevention experts, Facebook decided to offer intervention tools to the person streaming the video and the person viewing it.
With Wednesday's changes, people concerned about a friend who's streaming about suicide will be able to reach out to the person directly and report the video to Facebook. Facebook will provide resources to assist the person reporting the stream. The person streaming live will see resources as they are filming. They can choose to reach out to a friend, contact a helpline or see tips.
Suicide has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, according to the
People commit suicide in public ways for any number of reasons. They may be hoping someone will stop them. They may want to share their pain with the world. They may be trying to memorialize their death.
The worry: Suicide is devastating for the people who view it and could encourage others who are struggling to attempt it, too, said
"One of the strongest findings in the suicide contagion literature is giving people ideas about how to kill themselves, especially if they are novel," he said.
"One of the things we have learned from experts is that social support is one of the best ways to prevent suicide," Guadagno said.
A lack of social support has been said to play a role in suicides broadcast live.
In 2008, a Florida college student overdosed while streaming the video on his webcam. Of the viewers who witnessed the act, some pleaded with him to stop, others urged him on. In 2007, a 42-year-old father of two from Britain hung himself on camera while in a chat forum that encouraged people to insult one another. Again, some of the viewers egged him on.
(© 2017 USA TODAY)