A Taiwanese woman committed suicide this month live on Facebook while chatting with friends. Not one of her friends informed the cops and the resulting anger is now targeted at the number one social media site in the world -- Facebook.
It's no surprise. For all the millions of people who love Facebook, it always seems like there are at least 1,000 people who hate it. Those who hate Facebook like to blame it -- and other social media -- for 99 percent of society's ills, but Facebook connects people. It brings social lives to isolated people and it bridges distances.
It doesn't change human nature. And the fact is, Claire Lin -- the woman who committed suicide -- isn't the first person to die in a "public" space and not be helped.
Nearly 50 years ago, dozens of people heard stabbing victim Kitty Genovese screaming for help in Queens, New York, and they did nothing to prevent it. It wasn't happening in their computer or online or on television. It was happening in real life. And they did nothing.
Facebook is not to blame for human nature. A recent Salon piece talked about this and why people in cities are "meaner" and it isn't because we city folk don't care. The fact is, when watching a crime or a major event take place, many of us can't process it. Imagine a robot on overload with steam coming out its ears shouting: "This does not compute." Yeah. That's us.
We assume there is an easy explanation. We assume that no one WOULD really commit suicide on Facebook, so there is probably another explanation.
Lin's friends did take her seriously, it seems. They told her to get help and they offered to help. But no one called the police. It's impossible to know what she was like. But as someone who has my fair share of dramatic friends with attention-desiring status updates, I know I would probably not call the police if they had some status that seemed improbably dramatic and attention seeking.
Hindsight is 20/20 and maybe I can say NOW that I would. But I know myself and I am honest enough to say that, depending on the person, I might say nothing at all.
Is that bad? Is that Facebook's fault? Does this say something about me as a person? I know the answers to these questions: No, no, and no. I know I would look at that update and think that person was having a bad day, not that they were actually going to hurt themselves.
Now, in Lin's case, maybe I would have. She was posting photos and being very clear about the process. But I ignore a lot of drama on Facebook every day. One has to, after all. This doesn't make me -- or anyone else -- apathetic or cold. It just makes us human. We believe the simplest explanation is often the right one. And sometimes that has devastating consequences.
Do you think Facebook is to blame here?
Image via Thos003/Flickr