Suicide and social media

The world has long been full of people who delight in yelling “jump” when someone is perched on a building or bridge, preparing to die.

That sad reality doesn’t ease the horror in the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ story today about a St. Paul teenager who appeared to be trying to take her own life while broadcasting on Facebook Live.

About 18,000 people were watching, the story says, and only a few called authorities to try to stop it. Granted, there’s an anonymity on social media that makes it difficult to pinpoint a person or location, but, nonetheless, the best way to do nothing, is still to do nothing.

“It’s a tough situation,” St. Paul Police Sgt. Mike Ernster told the PiPress. “Some people see these things and they don’t know where people live or how to get in contact with the local authorities to find this person. It’s such a private incident happening in such a public realm, but it’s a challenge of the new social media world.”

Some people egged her on, the paper said.

Others comments that the teen read were supportive and sympathetic. At one point, she gave out her phone number and the calls began pouring in to her, with people urging the girl to stop hurting herself. A St. Paul police commander, who is the head of the department’s crisis negotiation team, tried to call, but could not get through, according to a police spokesman.

The Ramsey County Emergency Communications Center received 215 calls to 911 and the non-emergency number during the teen’s livestream – nearly triple the normal call load for that time, said Nancie Pass, the center’s deputy director. She didn’t know exactly how many involved the teen, but it appears the majority did.

“Obviously, people did reach out to intervene,” Reidenberg said. “The community gathered together and responded immediately. That is the essence of suicide prevention.”

To their credit, the police found the girl who denied she was really drinking the poison her video apparently suggested. She was taken to the hospital anyway.