[YSPNetwork] MySpace, Suicide, and Issues of Privacy
SANDS Damien J
Damien.SANDS at co.lane.or.us
Wed Feb 20 14:02:17 PST 2008
The following is a response to a recent conversation prompted by the
completion of a local college student. It should be noted that SPRC made
these recommendations specific to collegiate setting. That stated, it
think it also sheds light on looking at the ever increasing and complex
environments of social networks and how best to navigate them.
I want to thank Mark Evans and Laurie Davidson for bringing this issue
Damien J. A. Sands, MPA.
Health and Human Services
PSB, 125 East Eighth
Eugene, OR 97401
From: sprc_college_univ-bounces at milhouse.edc.org
[mailto:sprc_college_univ-bounces at milhouse.edc.org] On Behalf Of College
and University Grantees List of the Suicide PreventionResource Center
Sent: Thursday, February 14, 2008 1:55 PM
To: College and University Grantees List of the Suicide Prevention
Subject: Re: SPRC_College_Univ Suicide & MySpace & Facebook Pages
We asked SPRC staff and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to
weigh in on Mark's question about issues and solutions regarding
students who post suicidal content on MySpace and FaceBook. Linda
Langford, SPRC's evaluation specialist, is also an associate director of
the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug and Violence
Prevention and in charge of HEC's violence prevention initiatives. She
has co-presented with senior administrators and campus legal counsel on
online communities at several conferences. Amanda Lehner is technology
communications coordinator for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Anara Guard is SPRC's associate director, and she was involved with a
group of experts who developed a plan to prevent suicide contagion in an
online community (see Postvention, below). Their comments on monitoring
online communities are synthesized below.
We look forward to hearing what other grantees have to say and encourage
you to send your thoughts to me at ldavidson at edc.org, and we'll
consolidate your comments and post them once to the listserv so you
won't receive multiple emails. SPRC's upcoming conference call on
postvention (February 20) will include a discussion of MySpace, and
SPRC's online library on postvention
http://library.sprc.org/browse.php?catid=116650 has additional
Linda said that in general, schools would put themselves on firmer
ground by having a well-considered rationale for whatever course they
have chosen and a procedure that promotes consistent action across
Reacting to a report that a student has posted a suicidal note to an
online profile. In terms of a reactive response, campus officials
should follow the same protocol for addressing distressing behavior that
comes to their attention regardless of its source, e.g., they should
treat information posted on Facebook or MySpace the same as they would
treat concerns reported to them by another person or dropped off in an
anonymous note. In each case, you would want to assess the accuracy of
the report and level of concern and then follow your usual suicide risk
Reacting to a report that a student may be suicidal from a source other
than an online profile. Let's say a student is already a "student of
concern" but the initial information about the student did not come from
an online profile. There is no right or wrong answer about whether to
check a student's profile(s) in this case. Linda recommends that each
campus discuss the pros and cons of including a search of online
profiles as part of a broader effort to gather information about a
specific student. If you decide to check online communities at all, do
it systematically (e.g., for every student of concern, or under
delineated circumstances) and create established procedures about what
to do with the information you find. Think through the various
eventualities, e.g., what if you find pictures of the student breaking
the law, or alcohol policy, or find evidence of other kinds of
self-destructive behavior, like bulimia?
Scanning or monitoring sites to discover suicidal students. Should
officials be monitoring these sites to look for problems? Thinking of
the most extreme case, it would be impossible logistically and
staff-wise to try to monitor all online profiles. Linda couldn't say
for sure whether a campus might be found liable for not proactively
checking an online profile for a student of concern but said it would
likely depend on what else was or was not done. It's difficult to
imagine a court that would consider that extreme level of vigilance to
be required to demonstrate "reasonable care."
Postvention. Amanda suggests including an "online postvention," if
possible, in an overall postvention response. This entails obtaining
the students MySpace profile URL, if it is still up, and gaining access
to the profile if there is a privacy setting. Monitoring the profile's
comments from friends for suicidal ideation and posting resources and
content on the profile can be an important component in preventing a
contagion effect. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has worked with
several local communities to develop a plan to prevent future suicides
among the group of online "friends" of high school students who had died
by suicide. This entailed obtaining access to the student's profile,
through the students' parents - which Anara says may be difficult for
college students who are not minors - and reaching out to students,
sometimes through their families, who had posted messages to the
student's MySpace page that concerned the team. For example, one
student posted "why isn't this pain going away? I'll see you soon"
after a friend's suicide. Currently, guidelines for preventing suicide
clusters in communities do not address online communities (see
http://wonder.cdc.gov/wonder/prevguid/p0000214/p0000214.asp), and the
Lifeline staff are working to bring more attention to the issue.
Online communities and gatekeeping. Another approach to online
communities is to assume that other students would be most likely to see
concerning comments, so campuses might consider providing guidance,
including reminding students to take all comments about suicide
seriously, about what to do if they happen to see such postings. The
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline now has a MySpace page (see
http://www.myspace.com/suicidepreventionlifeline) and have been working
with both Facebook and MySpace administrators to try to respond to
postings (when possible) that come to the attention of the site
* Finding a student's online profiles may not be straightforward.
While Facebook uses full names, and most are thought to be accurate,
MySpace and other sites often do not use actual names, so it may be
difficult to locate non-Facebook sites.
* Who should do the checking? For example, there's been some
discussion of whether it is appropriate for therapists to check the
profiles of their clients without having been invited to. Likewise,
having a disciplinary or law enforcement person check the site might
create other issues.
* Many college students consider online communities to be
"out-of-bounds" for administrators (it's their space), so they often
feel "invaded" if they learn officials are looking at their profiles.
Many campuses already are educating their students about general safety
and privacy issues in online communities, and Linda recommends that
campuses make clear to students the circumstances under which their
information may be accessed and used, e.g., "we don't monitor sites, but
we will respond to information that is brought to our attention
indicating a student may be at risk of harming self or others."
Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Senior Project Director
Education Development Center, Inc.
55 Chapel St.
Newton MA 02458
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