It is not a secret that nowadays digital media have become such an important part of our everyday life that have the ability to influence our emotions and thoughts in a great extent. Unfortunately there is increasing evidence -relatively to the emotional sphere- that the percentages of teenagers with suicidal tendencies are rising every day and a little bit more. It is more crucial than ever to try and understand the connection that the use of online media has with this phenomena.
A remarkable quantity of information on the topic of suicide can be found anywhere on the Internet and social media. There are pro-suicide sites and some chat rooms where people can discuss general issues associated with suicide. Social media can increase risk for pro-suicide behaviour in several ways. Cyberbullying and cyber harassment, for example, are the most serious problems. Cyberbullying, associated with suicide, is known also as cyberbullicide. Results from a survey given to middle school children indicated that victims of cyberbullying were almost 2 times as likely to attempt suicide than those who were not. Also they indicated that cyberbullying offenders were more likely to report having attempted suicide than children who were not offenders. Due to feelings of isolation, instability, and hopelessness that they experience especially if emotional, psychological, or environmental stressors preexist. There is also a phenomenon called cyber-suicide pacts which are groups of people usually formed among complete strangers with one common characteristic, a wish to commit suicide. The use of online chat rooms and virtual bulletin boards and forums can create the perfect environment to share one’s feelings with other like-minded individuals, in a way that can be easier than talking about such thoughts and feelings face to face. A recent study by Dunlop examined possible contagion effects on suicidal behaviour via the Internet and social media. Of 719 individuals aged 14 to 24 years, 79% reported being exposed to suicide-related content through family, friends, and traditional news media such as newspapers, and 59% found such content through Internet sources.
On the other hand online media and communities can help to detect and reduce such tendencies. Firstly social networking sites for suicide prevention can facilitate social connections among peers with similar experiences and increase awareness of prevention programs, crisis help lines, and other support and educational resources. Furthermore platforms like Facebook or MySpace have collaborated with the United Kingdom Child Exploitation and other organisations in order to be able to provide a panic-button application giving users a fast way to report cyberbullying. Facebook has also started a collaboration with the United Kingdom based Samaritans charity organisation to launch a suicide alert reporting system so that Facebook users can report individuals who they believe are expressing suicidal thoughts or intent.
With a little attention paid to the legal aspect of the issue and respect to the freedom of voice that is a right equal for everyone online media without underestimate the rules about privacy can be used is a way that can be very beneficial for eliminating this threat.
Hinduja S, Patchin JW. Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications; 2009
Hinduja S, Patchin JW. Cyberbullying: identification, prevention, and response. Available at: http://www.cyberbullying.us/Cyberbullying_Identification_Prevention_Response_Fact_Sheet.pdf. Accessed June 20, 2011
Sweney M. Facebook ClickCeop app to offer optional “panic button.” Guardian. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jul/12/facebook-clickceop-app-optional-panic-button. Published July 11, 2010. Accessed July 22, 2011.