Should You Monitor the Word Suicide on Twitter?

Ashley Billasano was an eighteen year old who cried for helped many times. Apparently, Twitter may have been the last place she voiced her pleas and frustrations (not only did Twitter (metaphorically) ignore her, so did the very people she entrusted with her accusations of rape and other abuse).

Either nobody was paying any attention to her Twitter stream or nobody knew how to respond or just didn’t care (in this society, that seems to be an emerging trend). Not a single one of her tweets received a reply.

This is remarkable.

It’s an instance of why I continue my own plea to Healthcare Social Media hand-wavers to plumb deeper the ethical ramification of social media.

We can’t prevent all suicides. I get that.

But if nobody was paying attention to her tweets, then one question is: Who should, if not her followers?

Should agencies specialized to handle suicides monitor the public stream for mentions of “suicide” and related keywords? And not just Twitter, but elsewhere?

There’s no linear answer, of course: if you say “Yes”, then there are new arcs of questions which need answering: Is this an invasion of privacy (not in a legal, but ethical sense)?

Another question: what if you are a Healthcare professional or organization and your account follows someone who starts a clearly apparent plea for help (bearing in mind that suicidal pleas take different forms)?

Would a hospital be held legally responsible if it failed to take action (how would the hospital “prove” that it didn’t see the tweet))?

If you set up an alert for suicide keywords (from any or all social media platforms), do you then put yourself in a position of *some* responsibility?

Years ago I asked these sorts of questions – long before there was even the phrase “Healthcare Social Media”. You should raise these questions too if you’re truly passionate about this stuff. (I was more optimistic then. I still am – but I’m not convinced enough people are taking these questions seriously enough.)

At conferences where so many people praise Twitter – especially marketers – I often counter with my own snarky (but closer-the-truth) aphorism: “Nobody reads your tweets.”

Now that I know my sarcastic insights into the marketing potential of Twitter are far clearer and more realistic than most marketers’, I’m heartbroken.

I wish I was wrong.

Phil Baumann




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