Facebook suicide

This blog was first published in the Guardian as an opinion piece.  To see the original article click here…
Late last year an American child, not yet a teenager, killed herself. A video has surfaced online which purportedly shows the girl recording herself via life stream video doing it.
I came across the video via Facebook. Someone alerted me to it less than a week after her death. I did what any reasonable person would do: I followed Facebook’s own advice and reported it for showing graphic details of self-harm or suicide.

Less than two hours later I received a reply. It wasn’t what I expected:

“We’ve reviewed the share you reported for showing someone injuring themselves and found that it doesn’t violate our Community Standards.
In subsequent communications, Facebook also claimed that because it is not hosting the video, it is not responsible. This is despite the fact that due to its inaction the links were widely available on Facebook for anyone to see long after I reported the problem. It has not been verified that the video is authentic but whether it is or it isn’t, the content of the video shows a child committing the most serious act of self harm and is not appropriate for public viewing.

After nearly 20 years working with suicidal people I have a particular view on whether this is something that people should be watching: we should not. What community would find this acceptable?

Before social media, we used to have a term for videos like this: snuff films.

In New Zealand, we have very clear laws around the reporting of suicide. You can’t even report that a death is a suicide without permission from the chief coroner. And even then, talking about how the person did it, or what happened is out. There’s a good reason for this.

Research shows that when suicides are reported in detail, including how the person did it, there is a sharp rise in “copycat” suicides. Vulnerable people are triggered and influenced by the gratuitous details of suicide stories. In fact, if you feel suicidal it’s not uncommon to feel compelled to watch such a video. And in doing so, drive yourself even closer to the edge.

Despite what many might think, suicidal people are not going to be “talked out of” their situation by the reality of how painful, or messy the death they choose for themselves might be. You don’t shock people out of such state; you care them out of it.

Facebook has recently made a big deal of being sensitive to, and aware of, mental health issues and the impact of graphic videos about self-harm and suicide. They even have a “Compassion Team”.
But is it compassionate to allow the sharing of a snuff video of a child’s death? If a distressed child stumbles across the video on Facebook and takes their own life, is Facebook liable?

Facebook claims to have taken the video down but it still appears on other pages. Whatever systems Facebook has in place aren’t working. They claim people need to report each and every instance of the video being shared in order for it to be taken down – but couldn’t it use its extensive resources more effectively than that? That’s why I have set up a petition with suicide prevention ambassador Mike King to call on Facebook to make the required changes urgently.

Perhaps the last word should go to her family, the people who loved her and have watched this unfold. They posted their own request, on Facebook of course, begging people to share their tribute rather than the video:

“I get the fact that people want to spread awareness about depression and I stand up for that 100{1b812f7ed7a77644fff58caf46676f6948311bf403a3d395b7a7f87010507f87} because I know how real it is, but spreading a video showing a … girl do the absolute unthinkable is not the way to do it. Please remember that we (her family) already have to live with it and having that video pop up every time we turn around is NOT what we need right now.

For those who have showed our family nothing but compassion, I would like to say THANK YOU. It is a very difficult time for us all and your support is greatly appreciated.

May you finally rest in peace.”

I assume they’re not thanking Facebook for their compassion.

So it’s up to all of us. If you think you’re helping by sharing this video, you’re not. So please if you have shared it, delete your post. And if you see a link to this video in your feed report it to Facebook.

Facebook has failed us. But we don’t have to fail each other.


This article was orginally published on December 12, 2016 on the Spinoff website

What do you do when someone you’re close to on Facebook – or someone you hardly know at all – is talking about suicide or exhibiting signs of acute emotional distress? Kyle MacDonald talks to the head of Facebook’s ‘Compassion Team’ to find out how you can help.

We Kiwis love Facebook. As a nation we’re among the highest users in the world, with around 80{1b812f7ed7a77644fff58caf46676f6948311bf403a3d395b7a7f87010507f87} of New Zealanders visiting regularly. Facebook is the third most visited site in New Zealand after google.co.nz and google.com.

But does Facebook care about us as much as we care about it? Should it?

man sitting at the MacBook retina with site Facebook on the screen

You might be surprised to learn that within the organisational juggernaut that is Facebook there is something called a “Compassion Team”. Recently psychologist Dr. Jennifer Guadagno, the team’s head, was in New Zealand for the Netsafe Conference.

So what does the Compassion Team actually do?

“Our mission is to support people through sensitive life moments and enhance well-being,” says Dr Guadagno. “Our team is really focused on understanding those more difficult, sensitive life moments, how people are experiencing them, how they show up on Facebook and how we can support people through them.”

Sensitive life moments like relationship break-ups, bullying, self harm and experiencing suicidal ideation.

The thing is, the Compassion Team doesn’t rely on an algorithm. Facebook doesn’t use a line of code to figure out if people are emotionally distressed. They’re relying on all of us.

Facebook’s mental health support features are located within actions tab under the little drop down arrow on the top right of each post. Click on ‘report post”, select “I think it shouldn’t be on Facebook” and then “more options”. Once you’ve indicated that a post you’re concerned about contains self harm or suicide, you can choose what type of help to offer.

But whether it’s in real life or online, people often don’t know what to say.

“We did a lot of research with people in the lived experience community – people who have had past experiences with suicide ideation or attempts,” says Dr Guadagno.

“On both sides, we heard that same thing: people are worried about saying the wrong thing, not really sure how to go about it but want to do something.

“We suggest a text for them as a way to start the conversation, and they can edit that, add their own [words]. They can completely delete it and put what they want to put or just as it is as a way to start that conversation.”

It doesn’t end there. If you don’t want to reach out, you can anonymously flag the post and Facebook will let the person know someone is concerned. The user will also be sent links and locally relevant services, including helplines, that they can utilise. At times of acute risk, Facebook employees have even accessed local crisis services and sent urgent medical help.

Well intentioned? Without a doubt. Well researched? No question, as Jennifer herself said pretty much everything at Facebook is “data driven.”

But should we be relying on technology like this? Or should we be doing more here in New Zealand, given our relentlessly high suicide rate?

Mike King thinks so. In 2016 Mike spoke to over a 140,000 New Zealanders about emotional health as part of his suicide prevention work with the Key to Life Charitable Trust. From his point of view, there is little doubt we need to be utilising every tool we can.

“Arming people with tools to talk is one of the crucial mechanisms in this day and age. Not only for the person you’re trying to help, but also for the safety of the person trying to reach out. Really simple things, like not saying ‘What’s wrong?’ and instead saying ‘Are you OK?’ or ‘What’s going on?’ and reinforcing to people that you care.”

In many ways this is the point. We can debate whether Facebook cares enough, and while there is little doubt that this initiative is one that should be applauded, it isn’t up to Facebook to care.

Technology can’t replace real human connection – ultimately it’s up to each and every one of us to say something in whatever way we can, to show we care and to not let our friends suffer alone.

But anything that helps and encourages that has to be a good idea.

If you enjoyed this article please make sure you click here to view the the original article at the Spinoff…



Blog Award

Kyle MacDonald Psychotherapist  which was selected by Feedspot as one of the  Top 100 Psychology Blogs on the web.

Psychology has become a very important and popular subject today which deals with many problems of everyday life. We have compiled the Best 100 Psychology Blogs that would answer any of your questions related to psychology. These blogs offer a wealth of information, insight, and interesting content for aspiring psychologists, established professionals, and curious learners to discover every facet of their chosen discipline. If you’re keen in this field or believe that you need a good mental tune-up; we encourage you to follow these thought-provoking blogs to keep your brain stimulated.

These blogs are ranked based on following criteria

Google reputation and Google search ranking
Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
Quality and consistency of posts.
Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

See: http://blog.feedspot.com/psychology_blogs/

MacDonald on Violence

My first job in this field was working for an agency that ran  groups for men who were court ordered to attend treatment subsequent to domestic violence charges.  It wasn’t as tough as it sounds, in part due to my enthusiasm for having a job I had a pretty unflappable attitude to it all, and in part due to the experienced staff around me at the time.

My boss, a very experienced (professionally and in the “school of hard knocks sense” of the word) taught me how to focus in on listening for projection and blame, and to relentlessly challenge it.  And while the content of the course was important: assertiveness skills, understanding the role of tradition and culture in domestic violence, recognizing the control tactics for what they are; in the end it all came down to one thing: accountability.

Half the men there would claim there partners started it, that they were violent too and they never got charged.  What they wouldn’t say unless challenged was what actually happened was his partner had scratched him because he was yelling in her face, and then he punched her so hard she got a black eye.

The other half would roll out ridiculous stories like (I’m not joking here) “I was just expressing myself with my hands and she walked in to my fist”; “I was trying to restrain her and she slipped and I accidentally landed on her with my knee.”

If it wasn’t so awful, it would’ve been laughable.

This is why accountability and self responsibility is the target in treating men who hit women, because overwhelmingly the majority of men who end up in programmes like this don’t have it.  They blame their partners, blame their wives “emotionality”; blame their “relationship” even in the face of the overwhelming reality.

So why, many would ask, when “she started it” do the men get arrested? Because again, in the overwhelming majority of cases the difference between a scratch and a broken nose is recognized in the law.  When men assault women, it’s really really dangerous.  Whether you like it or not, we are bigger, stronger and more inclined (on average) to lash out when emotionally overwhelmed.

And let’s not even get started on the scale of the problem.  Here’s just one stat that shocked me: :

“NZ Police recorded a family violence investigation on average every five and a half minutes in 2014. [and yet] 76{1b812f7ed7a77644fff58caf46676f6948311bf403a3d395b7a7f87010507f87} of family violence incidents are NOT reported to Police.”  (Click here for the whole article)

So this is why so many people have reacted so strongly to his insensitive comments about McCaw’s punch in the face, but even more strongly to his attempts to defend himself in a subsequent Facebook post:

Veitch on Sport










Now there are people claiming that they have been bullied via personal messages from this page, of other commenters bullying women on the page and of anti-Veitch comments being deleted and other rumours emerging of Veitch himself still allegedly exhibiting some pretty worrying behaviour about one year ago. (“He” in this post comment being Veitch).

Veitch kicking DJ










And of course reading the content of the actual assaults that occurred, as they were made public in 2009 and re-circulated via social media in the last few days, makes for harrowing reading.

For me the key question then is: are these outbursts the actions of someone who has taken full accountability for their actions, and as a result understands the impact of his actions?  He might, I’ve never met the guy, but nothing in his recent commentary demonstrates that.  To describe his own struggle with having to “re-build my life and career and learn from what was a hideous relationship” doesn’t leave people feeling full of confidence that he’s really got it, now does it?

The reality, in my view is that as a public figure convicted of a fairly horrific assault, not only should you count yourself lucky to be working in a highly paid public role again, but you might want to consider being a little more thoughtful when you’re talking about violence, and have a nit more understanding when people call you out on your views.

In other words: be accountable for your actions.

The Facebook Cure

The Facebook Cure

Every time a new study is published about the perils of social media, and how it makes us more anxious, less social and unhappy, the media snaps it up.  But is it an accurate picture of the research?  Is social media harmful or helpful?  Mark Sainsbury and I discussed this on his Radio Live show this week.  (Click here to listen the interview)

This recent article in the Atlantic is a good example:  “A New Kind of Social Anxiety in the Classroom” it reviews research that suggests that increased use of computers, tablets and social media is decreasing students real life social skills, and may even be linked to rises in the levels of social anxiety seen in most western countries.  But any link is at this point correlation at best, and conjecture at worst.

The same article also points out that there are in fact studies that show that introverted or shy people can in fact be helped by online socialising, with people who are anxious about relating in real life feeling more comfortable sharing information on Facebook, and that for some social media use strengthens their social engagement.

Of course there are studies that show negative effects, but even the authors of those studies generally conclude that it’s hard to know whether socially anxious people use social media more as a result of their struggles, or if their use makes their anxiety worse.

In my view, and there is literature to support this, peoples behaviour is consistent: we behave on line as we behave offline.  And most research shows that happy people tend to find social media brings them happiness, and negative people find social media brings them anxiety.

But is doesn’t have to be this way, because what isn’t generally considered in all these studies is how people use social media, as opposed to simply how much.  There is a rich literature that shows that writing about your feelings, in journals and via other methods is helpful, but what is even more helpful is expressing emotions online because for the author “the notion that a close other would read what they had written and potentially respond boosted well-being by increasing perceived social support.”  (Click here for the rest of this article.)

So I’ve decided to test the theory.  As part of my interest in social anxiety (see: www.overcomingsocialanxiety.com) I’ve set up a closed Facebook group, for people who want to get support and connect with others who struggle with social anxiety.  It’s free to join, and anyone is welcome.  Just click the image below or go to: www.facebook.com/groups/overcomingsocialanxiety/

It might even help!

Overcoming Social Anxiety Group


Sunday Social

Social media

So just in case you haven’t had enough of me talking about social media, sex, dating and relationships, I was on Vaughn Davis’s Radio Live show “Sunday Social” today with the head of Find Someone Louise Compagnone, and the Digital Social Marketing Co-ordinator of the New Zealand Aids Foundation Campaign “Love your Condom,” Trak Gray.

To listen to the show click here…

#SMCAKL: Social Media and Sex

Sex and Social Media

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to be a guest on the panel for the Social Media Club Auckland (#SMCAKL)’s monthly event.  The topic up for discussion was Social Media and Sex:

“Sex, dating and ‘hook ups’ are nothing new. But when you add social media and gamification apps like Tinder and Snapchat to the mix, does this up the ante?
Is swiping left any shallower than mentally discounting the guy/girl next to you at the bar?
Can we make real connections online or is it just a self-validation game?
Sex on the internet thrives on privacy, while social media relies on public sharing. What happens when these two things collide?” (Click here for more…)

It was a an entertaining and (hopefully) informative discussion.  If you want to check it out, the video is below, although be warned, the audio is a bit dodgy until about 14 or so minutes in so feel free to jump forward to that point.



Look at me

The word of last year, according to the Oxford Dictionary, was “Selfie”:

“Selfie – a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website” – has been named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries editors, after the frequency of its usage increased by 17,000{1b812f7ed7a77644fff58caf46676f6948311bf403a3d395b7a7f87010507f87} over the past 12 months.” (Click here for the whole article)

Why has this phenomenon taken such a grasp on our psyche, and is it, as some suggest a sign of the dumbing down of humanity? Wallace and I talked about the “Selfie” this week on his Sunday morning show on Radio Live.  (Click here for the audio of the interview)

Firstly we have to acknowledge the obvious role of technology, and man-kinds long history of wanting to see ourselves, whether it’s painted on the wall of a cave, painted on canvas or on a printed photograph.  Portraits used to be the domain of the wealthy and upper class, and gradually over time as they have become more easily produced, the realm of the middle class as well.

I think this highlights that the desire to see ourselves, and to be seen by others, is a deep psychological need within all of us.  And with the rise of technology taking an image of ourselves, and moreover publishing it to the world, has become ubiquitous.

Some however, like psychoanalyst and technology researcher Sherry Turlke, suggest caution:

“A selfie, like any photograph, interrupts experience to mark the moment. In this, it shares something with all the other ways we break up our day, when we text during class, in meetings, at the theater, at dinners with friends… ..Technology doesn’t just do things for us. It does things to us, changing not just what we do but who we are. The selfie makes us accustomed to putting ourselves and those around us “on pause” in order to document our lives. It is an extension of how we have learned to put our conversations “on pause” when we send or receive a text, an image, an email, a call. When you get accustomed to a life of stops and starts, you get less accustomed to reflecting on where you are and what you are thinking.”  (Click here for the whole article)”

However it’s also true that many don’t see our collective obsession with the “look at me” photo as a sign of the end of humanity.  There will always be those that do things to an extreme, and use technology to distract to the point of disconnection.  That was true with books, movies and the television before the rise of global connectivity.

When used with thoughtfulness, our ability to not just say “look at me” to our friends and acquaintances, but “look at me; here I am” via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter adds something to our lives and our relationships.  Albeit in a way that we’re still coming to grips with:

“Turkle imagines that any interaction with technology somehow negates all the time spent doing other things. She also imagines that we must devote ourselves in only one way to every task: At a dinner table, we are only serious and focused on conversation; at a memorial service, we are only mournful. That is not the way we live. It’s never been the way we live. And that’s the beauty of technology, which Turkle cannot see: We can use it for all purposes, to express joy and sadness, to have long conversations or send short texts. We made it. It is us.” (Click here for the whole article)

It’s not hyperbole to say we’re living in the middle of a revolution.  And we don’t know how it will turn out yet, but like most generations it can be tempting to hold onto what we know, and to be afraid of what’s coming.  A documented life doesn’t have to be narcissistic, meaningless or disconnected.  It all depends on what you document, and how you use it to connect with those you care about.

And that’s always been true.

informationtech-cavepaintingFrom: Cueva de las Manos, Patrimonio de la Humanidad (ONU)
World Heritage Site (UN)
Patagonia Argentina

Photo credit: Historias de Cronopios