1UNPLUGGED: Live Stream Suicides


In this episode, Michael Drane (@upcmd) sits down with Justin Krause (@brobrainscience) to answer a listener question about Live Stream Suicides, bullying and violence. Once again, we'll be talking about the daily struggle that plagues each and every one of us as we sit hidden and comfortable

This listener, Dawn, posted on Facebook during the original recording of our Bystander: Reloaded episode. Dawn writes:

Recently, there was a story going around Facebook about someone live streaming their suicide. 40 people watched and no one did a thing. In your opinions, does technology make the Bystander effect worse? I feel like watching something on social media would make people feel even more like it isn't their responsibility to take action. I was just curious to know what you thought about all of this, also what can you do if you come across this kind of thing online?

As Michael points out in the episode, even though there are new stories coming out about Facebook "Live Stream Suicides" — Public suicide is not new. Michael says he thinks there's something about human nature that makes people want to kill themselves in front of other people: to make an impact, finally. These people on Facebook who have been committing suicide are confessing, and probably getting more views because of it, and this is why they're doing it.  

People gather together to help. The Bystander Effect doesn't negate that this behavior also exists. 

Justin says this is like the recent Cleveland shooter that streamed a series of murders on Facebook. And that the news traveled so fast on Facebook that people went to the area and were live streaming themselves, and were able to try to find him this way. Michael says this happens a lot. People gathering together to help out somebody. The Bystander Effect doesn't negate that this behavior also exists. 

Mutual live-streaming? Is this an episode of Black Mirror? Michael says "Isn't it crazy: social media, in the case of this Cleveland shooter beat mainstream news to the punch." Let that sink in. Facebook has become the fastest source of news. Justin says that the anonymity of the internet and social media lessens the effects of bystander effect in us. Michael disagrees, saying that AS your social media presence becomes your sense of identity (which is totally happening in the world, yikes!) your morality might transfer to doing something helpful! But he says not to forget how passive one can be (even while watching something horrific like a Live Stream suicide) in the comfort of their own home, while no one else knows they're watching it.

I think this is key. It's about having someone else know you're watching it happen. Maybe if people are out live streaming, doing their 'daily vlog' in the future, they'll be compelled (because they have thousands of followers watching their current stream) they'll be more inclined to behave boldly, maybe act nobly. Sure, it's to get approval, but hey aren't we all really living in Charlie Brooker's "Nosedive"? 

In this episode, Michael and Justin discuss being the viewer of this situation. What do you do if you see this? There is speculation that Facebook could implement smart technology to recognize when suicides are happening through live streams. Supposedly this technology will somehow screen for self-harm or suicidal behavior and then respond to it with some kind of intervention.

Justin asks how could this be possible, and per usual, he speaks for the two of us. Michael speculates that they might be picking up on gestures: video or audio recognition where they pick up on keywords related to suicide that somehow alert the local authorities. Or maybe they could recognize the gesture through Kinect-like technology to understand when a person is cutting their wrists or hanging themselves. Justin says this is like they have made technology that tries to step in and intervene in a harmful or violent situation. Reminds me of my favorite safety and healthcare robot, Baymax of Big Hero 6! Michael says Facebook has a responsibility to do something about this, because who else would? 
{EDIT: As of posting this episode on May 22, 2017, The Guardian leaked documents that say that Facebook will not be censoring or intervening in self-harm or suicidal live-streams.}

Justin asks: What if you're watching Facebook live-stream happening on YOUR street, only a few doors down. Are you more compelled to resist the Bystander Effect and do something about the situation? Michael says YES! This is a caveat to the normal Bystander effect. If you're the only person that's qualified to help, than you're more likely to help. So if you're the only surgeon in the restaurant while someone is choking you'll feel more likely to help. 

You are pulled out of the mob-mentality-do-nothing role. When we talk about being the victim of a crime that other people are watching, you have to pull someone back into reality and say "You in the red shirt" or naming a person you know "You! Mary! Go get help!" This individualizes a person, makes them special, and therefore they will feel more inclined to help you. 

Michael wants to set the record straight: The Bystander Effect is VERY real. And these Facebook Suicide Live Streams are EXACTLY what he's talking about. 


— Corey Stewart