The Problem With Social Networks, Suicide & The Bystander Effect

Published on February 3, 2012

"EternalGnosis" "Ashley Duncan" "Ashley Billasano" "Don Cornelius" "Mike Kelley"

It’s 2012.  There are hundreds of ways to connect with other human beings around the world.  You can share photos, thoughts, dreams; engage in conversation with friends, family, and strangers in a matter of seconds.  While advancements in technology are at a steady pace, our minds, bodies, and souls remain the same.  We still have hopes and dreams.  We still have feelings, wait for love, and live for happiness.  But there’s a disconnect.

It’s important to distinguish a cry for attention from a cry for help.  Ashley Duncan, 17, recently made the news this past week after committing suicide.  But there were warning signs… and plenty.  From Facebook to Tumblr to Twitter, Duncan openly discussed her depression and suicidal thoughts.  She posted tweets such as “it’s like God is torturing me keeping me here,” and tumble notes like “..I should’ve went through with my plan, I wouldn’t have to feel or deal.”

Her final post read “I finally got a gun followed by a picture of the popular high school volleyball player holding the revolver in her hand.  Minutes later, it’s reported, Duncan walked to a nearby reservoir of water and took her life.  Last year, Ashley Duncan was Ashley Billasano; an 18-year-old who tweeted over 144 times her contemplations of life and death  before finally committing the act.

Earlier this year, another tweeter, @EternalGnosis did the same.  While her true identity has gone unindentified, it has left many of her followers believing that her physical is no longer.  Or perhaps she was found overdosed, and is now receiving treatment.  No one really knows.  What was heavily debated, though, was the reaction of her followers.  While some truly pleaded for her to seek help, she only retweeted ones that encouraged her toward her end: “I totally feel you. I think you are brave. I wish i could too” read one; and “I’ve never respected a woman so much” read another. [Update, this tweeter has since returned, admitting to have been receiving treatment.]

These tweets raise many questions, but prove one: suicide is on an incline (or at least as visible as it’s ever been before).  In celebrity news this week alone, we lost Don Cornelius, Mike Kelley, and (possibly) Leslie Carter, too.  But we must remember, suicide is a mental illness.  If you continuously see someone writing about it, take a minute out of your time to send them a note of encouragement, or to ask them to seek help.  If someone would have reached out to any of the previously described women above, more then likely, they would still be here.

Suicide also isn’t something to look down on, but to simply try to understand.  Personally, I was disturbed when I noticed the same people who wished Joe Paterno a peaceful rest in death, also tweeted that they would not wish the same for Don Cornelius, who did much more in his lifetime for the betterment of our nation as a whole.

The internet allows the space for insensitivity and breeds a world-wide-web of the bystander effect.  Maybe it should be called the Daul Kim effect.  Just like a person who witnessed a  robbery and beating can walk away–believing someone else will call the cops–social networks have done the same.  You may read a tweet, and expect a friend will reach out, or someone in their immediate family will help, but what will assuming ever accomplish?

Suicide in our day and age isn’t uncommon, and it also isn’t slowing down.  With our economic hardships on top of physical and mental issues rising, it’s time that we all take a stand in educating and uplifting one another.  Don’t take your social network for granted because it allows a sense of anonymity.  Remember that there are people on the other side of the screen; just like me, just like you, your mother, sister, brother, best friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, and beyond.  Stay social, but also stay socially aware.

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