Saturday Star

The disturbing trend of live-streamed suicides

Why should anyone want to do this?


THE 14-year-old girl was on Facebook, broadcasti­ng from a bathroom at her foster home in south-eastern Florida. Then, she was hanging from a scarf tied to a shower’s glass door frame – a deeply painful and personal moment playing out so publicly on social media.

A friend saw the video stream on Facebook Live and called 911, but officers were sent to the wrong address.

By the time they got to the foster home in Miami Gardens, Florida, it was too late: Naika had committed suicide.

“Naika was my baby girl,” her biological mother, Gina Alexis, said during a news conference late last month, according to the Miami Herald. “I am sick and devastated. I have trusted Florida foster care people to care for my baby. Instead she kills herself on Facebook.”

“I have to bury my baby,” she said.

Mental health experts say there is no question that social media is becoming a new platform for public suicide. The concern is that people who are planning to take their own lives can broadcast their own deaths in real time – which is not only devastatin­g for those who die but also for those watching it happen online.

“We haven’t seen a lot of it,” said John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, “but when we see it, it’s very disturbing.”

Nadine Kaslow, a past president of the American Psychologi­cal Associatio­n, said although they are not common, “These postings are a very concerning trend. People can see them over and over and over again.”

The question is: Why would someone choose to die that way and what would it do to those watching it?

Already this year, a 12-year-old girl in Georgia hanged herself from a tree while broadcasti­ng on the video streaming app

Naika hanged herself in Florida. Then a 33-year-old aspiring actor in California, who had been arrested and after accusation­s of domestic violence, shot himself in the head as his world watched on Facebook Live. Similar scenes have played out abroad, according to news reports.

In the Miami Gardens case, Naika had been bouncing in and out of foster homes since 2009, when she was taken from her mother after her mother said she “physically discipline­d” her daughter.

Naika, who had reportedly been sexually abused while in foster care, had talked about suicide and had been involuntar­ily hospitalis­ed on several occasions, her mother said in a statement through an attorney.

On January 22, Alexis, the mother, started receiving messages from friends, telling her to check her bathroom.

“But my daughter was not in my care,” she said in the statement. “I then got a call from a friend saying to contact DCF (Department of Children and Families) because something was wrong.”

Alexis said she tried to call Naika’s case manager, but did not get an answer. So she said she started phoning hospitals until she found the right one. When she got there, she said, she saw a case worker crying.

“That’s when I knew the worst had happened,” she said.

After Naika’s death, Mike Carroll, with Florida’s Department of Children and Families, said the department was “absolutely horrified and devastated by the news of this young girl’s death” and vowed to conduct a “comprehens­ive, multidisci­plinary special review” of it.

The status of the department’s investigat­ion is unclear.

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 14, and the second-leading cause of death among those ages 15 to 34, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 44 000 people committed suicide in the US in 2015, according to data from the CDC. Nearly half of them used a firearm, according to the statistics.

The CDC does not appear to have data on the number of people who have committed suicide on social media.

Kaslow and Sarah Dunn, clinical director of the Grady Nia Project, a project for suicide prevention at Grady Memorial Hospital, say people, namely teens and young adults, may choose to end their lives online for a number of reasons. The clinical psychologi­sts say some people, particular­ly those who have been victims of cyberbully­ing, may do it as a form of revenge or to retaliate against the bullies.

“There seems to be a link between what goes on on social media and suicides on social media,” Dunn said. “It’s often a way of getting back at the bully.”

Some, the psychologi­sts say, may choose to commit suicide online as a way to memorialis­e themselves.

Or other times, people may be broadcasti­ng their actions, hoping that viewers will step in to stop them.

That happened last month when police in Califor nia worked with police in New York to save a woman streaming an apparent suicide attempt on Facebook Live.

Sergeant Ray Kelly, a spokespers­on for the Alameda County Sheriff ’s Office in California, said that on January 25, a crisis centre in Idaho, where the woman used to live, phoned police in Alameda County, where she had since moved, saying they had talked to a suicidal woman by phone and online.

Alameda dispatcher­s began pinging her cellphone and discovered that she was in Rockville Centre, New York.

Dispatcher­s alerted authoritie­s on Long Island, leading them to the woman using pings from her cellphone, Google Street View and the live feed from Facebook.

“While we were monitoring her, she went on Facebook Live,” Kelly said. He said she began cutting herself with “a blade” and “talking about her impending suicide.”

Kelly said when the New York authoritie­s reached her, she was passed out in a car outside a church, but they rushed her to a nearby hospital and she survived.

“It’s disturbing...” he said of suicide attempts and suicides being broadcast on social media. “But as disturbing as it is... it actually alerts law enforcemen­t to the event and we’re able to respond in real time... “We know social media has changed so many things in the way we live our lives... including how we die.”

Psychologi­sts also say suicides streaming on social media can have an effect on those who are watching.

Draper, with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, said one concern is the risk of copycat killings.

Kaslow, who is also a psychology professor at Emory School of Medicine, said although social media gives people a platfor m to talk about suicide in a constructi­ve way, she agrees that it’s concerning when people are showing their own deaths in graphic detail.

She said a concern is that live suicides could give others who are struggling a greater sense of “acquired capability” – the idea that, “If you can do it, I can do it.”

“What we don’t want to have happen is to make it seem easy to do.That’s concerning.”

In response to the recent suicides that have been broadcast on Facebook Live, the social media giant said in a statement that it was “saddened by these tragedies.”

A spokespers­on said in a written statement: “If someone does violate our Community Standards while using Live, we want to interrupt these streams as quickly as possible... so we’ve given people a way to report violations during a live broadcast.

“We will also notify law enforcemen­t if we see a threat that requires an immediate response and suggest people contact emergency services themselves...”

There is a way to report concerning behaviour on social media.

In June, Facebook said it expanded its suicide prevention tools globally to help people report concerning posts so Facebook could reach out to them with resources from partnering mental health organisati­ons.

Also, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline have created a campaign called #BeThe1To to share stories of survival to give others hope, as well as give loved ones the tools they need to help spot and stop suicides. –The Washington Post

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