Color & Control:

Suicide and Social Networks


It is very clear to me how the social networks that keep us safe, healthy and secure in our sense of belonging may share similarities with inline social networking sites such as myspace and facebook, yet differ in some profound ways also.  Here is an article by Rob Hyndman that speaks to the differences:

“Something in the Globe yesterday really stopped me short. It was an article by Andre Picard titled “Holidays, suicide and Hope” about the dynamics of suicide and holidays, especially Christmas. Picard was debunking the myth that suicide rates are higher at Christmas. Why? “Scientific research repeatedly points to the importance of social networks and the value of the age-old medicines called friendship and belonging” as having emotionally healing powers, and these tend to be more abundant during the holidays. “Hmmm, social networks”, I thought, “I wonder …”. Picard was obviously not writing about online social networks, but still …

But moments later, not so much, for what else did I learn from the Globe not one page away? It seems social networking causes suicides (or rather, it ‘opens the door’ to suicide, which is just a cop out, of course – a way of pretending to mean something without actually saying anything):

“But the popularity of these sites also opened the door to abuse and emotional trauma. People have been contacted by their high-school bullies, harangued for their opinions and attacked by anonymous masses. In one tragic case, a New Jersey mother set up a fake MySpace account that she used to psychologically torture a 15-year-old girl who eventually killed herself in despair. I know we’re all friends and all, but it may be time to replace Facebook with a little face time.”

Got that? Not an opportunity to be included in a community of like-minded people; not an opportunity to enjoy “friendship and belonging”, not a possible cure for emotional trauma or for the damage caused by abuse, but something to be avoided. To be fair, the piece isn’t striving for much in the way of sociological observations – it’s shooting more for a sly, knowing pose, and it’s so much easier to hit that mark when you criticize something popular. (Bullying was a serious problem offline long before it appeared online, and it’s trite to point of infantile to observe that online bullying is inevitable, and not a function of online anything.) But still, it’s fascinating to me that for all of the brainpower involved in publishing a newspaper, they so often fail to make the interesting connections between the different bits of information they contain – here, only one page apart. Update: and again.”


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