Responding To Anonymous Posts Indicating Self-Harm

I mentioned yesterday that picking up the phone to call someone you know is the best first course of action.
What should you do when someone you know ‘online’ – but you don’t know their real name – indicates imminent self-harm?

We’re getting into a subset of people here (bloggers, message board members, etc.) that you might not be a part of. I apologize but I hope you find this interesting.

Sidebar question: Why aren’t you blogging yet?

Who Are These People?

Most bloggers don’t know where each other live, specifically, or have each other’s phone numbers. So, it’s not like I can pick up the phone and call ObsessiveOscar23, or his mother, and find out if he’s OK. (That’s a made-up name.) Many bloggers choose to remain anonymous.

On the other hand, this is a generally close-knit community, in which many readers and writers genuinely care about the person on the other end of the keyboard.

All bloggers are not friends, but there are endless smaller subsets, dedicated to specific interests such as ‘three-legged-dog-owners-with-diabetes’ or ‘fat-Crossfitters‘. These people do know each other.

Granted, I spend time in mental-health forums where I am guaranteed to encounter alarming posts. But that doesn’t mean they do not occur in other forums.

Perhaps your World of Warcraft clan-mate says that he’s going to end it all. Or maybe your Facebook Antique Car Group buddy HotRod1964 has posted something alarming and gone offline for three weeks, uncharacteristically.

I wonder, and sometimes worry, if the next day that person will suddenly no longer be there. I fear that a week will go by, and I’ll notice that they haven’t posted anything, and they’ll be dead.

These people are actual people just like you and me.

A Suggested Plan of Action:

1) Reach out in the primary manner you normally contact the author.

Generally, I will reply in comments that I have read their post, and that they are not alone. If it’s a person with whom I’ve had an adequate amount of contact, I might offer to email, private chat, or HOA (hangout on air). If you get no response, but are still concerned:

2) Search for a secondary method of contact.

One in which you normally don’t use, but most likely can find. Here are some ways to try to contact someone directly:

  • Search for alternate web-based profiles: LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter … sometimes the person has an email address, or phone number, listed.
  • Contact forum administrators and request that they send the person an email.

3) Report to Administrators.

Facebook has made a significant effort to help people in distress by implementing a reporting system between friends. One of three things will happen when you report a post:

  • Facebook will provide you with resources for you to send to your friend;
  • Facebook will attempt to contact your friend directly; or, if they deem the threat to be serious enough
  • Facebook will attempt to notify local law enforcement. In addition, they have also teamed up with other organizations to raise awareness of suicide warning signs and resources.

Most bloggers synchronize and publish their posts to Facebook, so that even if you did not view the original post on Facebook, you might be able to find it there and report it using their tools.

I applaud Facebook for this program. Google+ permits the reporting of abuse, but not self-harm. Twitter does neither.

Do Not Panic

You’ve spent hours trying to contact this person. You’ve waited days for a response. You’re really beginning to worry. They never take this long to write back.

This is a reality of the internet. People come and go – sometimes abruptly, never to be heard from again. As quickly as you sign on, you can sign off.

It is not your responsibility to save everyone in the world. It is your responsibility to try.

You’ve tried. That is the best, and sometimes only, thing you can do.


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