Although social media is a relatively new concept, the speed at which it was integrated and expanded into an ever-growing, technologically-savvy society paints a somewhat skewed picture when considering some of the devastating effects social media websites have on those who use them. This worldwide phenomenon for the sharing, and often over-sharing, of personal information has sparked interests and debates over how these popular websites should, or shouldn’t, intervene in the lives of their users. However, in a recent fight to stop the spread of self-harm that is often catalyzed by online posts and comments, social media giants Facebook and Tumblr have adopted separate but innovative policies to ensure the safety of their online communities.
In 2007, Facebook began working with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, sending alerts to comments noted by other users as “disturbing” or “suicidal” with links to the suicide prevention hotline. In December of 2011, they also started sending links to online counselors as well.
Tumblr, on the other hand, announced in a recent entry on the staff blog that it would no longer allow users to “post content that actively promotes self-injury or self-harm, [including] anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders, and commit[ing] suicide rather than seeking counseling for depression or other disorders.” The post went on to say that any user found in violation of this policy would have their personal Tumblr deleted. Additionally, Tumblr promised to begin showing “public service announcements” when searches for flagged keywords associated with self-injury promoted blogs are conducted.
“I’m really proud of what [Facebook and Tumblr] are doing,” third-year, Catalyst layout editor and avid social media user Shane Donglasan said. “I think it’s a great idea […] and I’m sure when other sites see what they’re doing, yeah, they’ll change too.”
Another student, first-year Hannah Schroer, was a little more cautious about the idea of websites intervening in the updates and posts of their users, especially Tumblr’s new guidelines.
“I mean, if they’re stopping people who promote the self-harm, and not those who talk about personal experiences and how to get help, I think it’s a good idea,” Schroer said. “But if they’re willing to censor this, what’s going to stop them from censoring something else?”
While in retrospect these implementations to the popular social media websites could be seen as pioneering, currently they face a certain level of derision from both medical health professionals and users themselves. According to a New York Times article on the same subject, some experts say that Facebook’s blunt intervention into the lives of its users could be volatile in a delicate situation. Others are not so sure. Dr. Anne Fisher, the Program Director at the Counseling and Wellness Center, sat down with the Catalyst and gave her opinion on the subject.
“The user can always ignore it,” Fisher explained. “But it might be thought of as a lifeline, something that user never thought of before. It’s an intrusion, but Facebook is full of intrusions. But I don’t see it as a really damaging thing. People are suicidal or they are not. And I think people spend a lot of time talking around people when they think they might be suicidal, when they would be better off directly asking. If [users] are [posting] about it on Facebook, a part of [them] is not wanting to keep it private. So perhaps having that lifeline extended to you isn’t that bad.
“People need to take responsibility for their behaviors, as well,” Fisher said in response to Tumblr’s policy change. “And if [their comments] are damaging other people… There are people who are very fragile, who can read this stuff and decide it’s a good idea. So I guess I’m in favor of these changes.”
Even though both professionals and users agree that helping maintain a safe atmosphere should become somewhat inherent in these social media sites, others argue that monitoring status updates and limiting free speech are in opposition to the first amendment. However, both Facebook and Tumblr are privately owned companies, and they are under no obligation to “provide venues for free speech” or facilitate a forum of unmonitored content. Users who disagree with their policies might want to search out greener, or in this case bloodier, pastures for perusal.
Information from this article was taken from http://www.nytimes.com/ and http://digitallife.today.msnbc.msn.com/