A user from California recently put Facebook’s suicide prevention feature to test. According to a report, Shane Tusch shared his frustrations about his bank on the social network and posted a fake-threat to hang himself from the Golden Gate Bridge. A reader swiftly reported his post. As per the prevention service update last month, Facebook locked Tusch out of his account. He should have been in conversation with a crisis worker soon after, but instead he was arrested and placed in a psychiatric institution for a total of 70 hours.
At a time when people are perpetually signed into social networks, online intervention could prove to be a crucial tool in saving lives. According to the CDC, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death across all ages in the US. Facebook first stepped in to help with its reporting tool in 2011. In partnership with suicide prevention organizations, the network eventually found a way to get friends involved beyond likes and comments. Through the service a concerned friend (or, as Tusch claims, a relative stranger) can report a suicide threat to generate a concerned email from Facebook.
Advocates root for the program. But Tusch’s experiment underscores the fact that it’s hard to tell a hoax from the truth on social media. He contacted Consumer Watchdog to share the repercussions of his Facebook post. And the non-profit sent Mark Zuckerberg a letter last week, asking him to discontinue the “ill-conceived” feature until it was better equipped with safeguards for users.
Facebook’s “you matter to us” service is not fool proof. Apart from hoaxes, trolls who thrive in the loopholes of online features could misuse it. But for those who take to social media as a last resort in life, perhaps the benefits of the service trump its potential for being trolled.