As technology evolves, the means to communicate with each other become increasingly sophisticated. But will these means ever be sufficient to breach the gaps between us? Or will they only serve to pull us further apart?
Outer Limits, Season 2, episode 10.
Excuse me if what I’m about to write doesn’t make any sense. But I need to write it for two reasons. 1. That I get it down, and 2. that someone might read it later and it might help them.
Yesterday felt like an ordinary day. I got some stuff done, I talked to my room-mate from GDB, I had some yummy food. Then I decided to catch up on my tweets. And this is what I read from a user with the name Lindsay Cowell, calling herself HappyHatter:
Just wanted to say goodbye to all my fellow twitterers, have taken 60 paracetamols, tbc, just waiting for them to kick in now, not long for this world.
Um, woe? If that ain’t a suicide attempt, I don’t know what is.
I looked up paracetimols because I have no idea what the fuck they are. Apparently they’re an aspirin-based painkiller. So…poppin’ 60 aspirins sounds like a suicide attempt to me.
The part that really sucks is I just started following this person yesterday. So, I have no idea if she makes a lot of suicidal threats, whether she has done this before, what kind of other means she has of taking her life, all those things I know to check for. Remember, I’ve volunteered on a distress line.
So I pulled up her list of followers to see if we had anyone in common. Lo and behold, we had a couple who I knew were awake because they were tweeting.
I quickly dm’d them and asked if they knew where she was located/what they knew of her history of suicide attempts. And goddamn it, neither of them knew her that well. Panicpanicpanic. But they also tweeted about it, and put up with my endless barrage of dm’s. Bless them, and bless my other friend for staying up with me too, watching the influx of dm’s.
So…I thought of Thordora’s old post where someone misunderstood a tweet and sent the tweet to Twitter, who contacted authorities. How did they do that? Thinkthinkthink.
I couldn’t find a way, nor could others on Twitter. But that was not enough for me. I picked up the phone and called my local distress line. Maybe they would know what I should do.
The poor girl, the poor poor girl. I know how it feels to work an overnight shift. You just hope you get some lonely people. You don’t want anything stressful because honestly, who is lively and full of ingenuity at midnight? I know I sure as shit am not.
I asked her, and she didn’t have a clue, nor did she have a Twitter account. She did her very level best to help me, giving me a toll-free number in the states that she found on google that had a whole article to do with dealing with suicide threats on Twitter. If they wrote an article, they’d have to know what to do, right? Right?
I called it. The first thing they asked me was if *I* was having any suicidal thoughts. Bless them, I know exactly what they’re doing. I told them no, and tried to assure them that I was fine, although I’m sure my panicked tone did not lend huge heaps of credibility to that statement.
I told them what happened, and they started asking me all the things I wished I knew. “Do you know where she lives? Do you know others who do? Do you have a phone number?” No, no, no no no no no!
Then she said something that nearly sent me through the roof. “Just give her the life line and get her to call here.” Lady, if I was talking to her, I would be working on getting her some help. I wouldn’t be asking how to trace tweets. Poor lady, though, I may have said the same if in her shoes. I know, I know.
Everyone I was dm’ing with was telling me to call 911, but with so little information, I was afraid they would misunderstand and they’d end up at my door. I did not need to be packed off to Guelph General in my PJ’s and held for 72 hours. That, sure as shit, would not get her any help.
So, I thought I’d call the local police dispatch. Surely they have had to deal with tweets being sent to them with criminal content. Surely, surely!
Oh my my my oh my. What a fail. But I do give him credit for trying as hard as his poor little heart would let him.
Me: Do you know the way I can trace a tweet and notify the necessary authorities? I have someone on my Twitter list who is threatening suicide.
Cop: Twitter? What? I don’t know Twitter. Is this person in Guelph?
Me: No, and this is the thing. I don’t know where they are. If I did, I would call the local authorities. I was hoping you knew what I could do to get a tweet traced.
Cop: You don’t know them?
Me: No, I just started following them. I don’t know hardly anything about them. I just started following them because they follow me and some other folks I follow.
Cop: Follow? What is follow? I don’t understand.
Me: (begins to not be able to think quickly. How do you explain Twitter and the suicidal threat in a nutshell?) Following is the term for getting messages from a twitter user.
Cop: so you follow her but you don’t know her?
(great. Now he thinks I’m following her around like a stalker. Jesus murphy.)
Me: That’s the way social networking works. You meet people through other people and then you get to know them. She started following me, so I decided to find out what she’s all about. And this is the first tweet I read. I don’t know where she is.
Cop: Do you have a phone number for her?
Cop: What is her name?
Me: It’s…goddamn it! She’s disappeared off my followers and friends list.
(*this should have been the first sign of what was to come.*)
Cop: Just give me her name.
Me: I’m trying. Lindsay Cowell.
Cop: And you’re sure she’s not in Guelph?
Me: not sure of anything, but I think she may be in the states.
Cop: ok, let me take down some information. Name? Date of birth? Address? Phone number?
(Great. Now he has all this information on me, the non-suicidal one, and nothing on the suicidal one. I was so scared he would get this weird idea that I was talking about a *friend* but I was the one who was going to off myself. I kept listening for woo woo woos in the distance.)
Cop: If you google, you will find about the seventh hit down something about dealing with suicidal threats on Twitter. Maybe they have some info.
Funnily enough this is the same article that the distress line had googled out.
He said he would keep trying to see what he could do, but not having access to Twitter, he really didn’t know how much he could do. He let me go.
And bless his heart, he called back a few minutes later and thought he had found a number for Twitter. What he gave me was out of service. But I thought the thought was absolutely wonderful. At least he did what he could. I sure didn’t give him much to go on, and apparently some dude got beat up and robbed last night in Guelph, so I’m sure there was more being focused on that for sure.
After dm’ing with folks for a little longer, I found a way to submit tweets with threats in them to Twitter. It wasn’t too comforting to see the message “thanks for your message! It will take us a few days to respond.” A few days? Oh dear. I also DM’d Twitter Support with the tweets and asked them to help. I heard nothing.
By about 2:30, I felt I had exhausted every option I had. I stayed up and watched my dm’s for a while and then decided there was nothing else I could do. I fell down to sleep, fitfully.
Then this morning I wake up. I didn’t sleep worth a damn and the first thing I do is check Twitter for new developments. Nothing.
Then it happens. I get a message from one of the ones who stayed up with me. We find out that when HappyHatter disappeared, a new Twitter account was born. This person never took any damn pills. She was just doing this to manipulate someone, any way she knew how. This woman kept me, and countless others, up half the night and made us worry for nothing. This woman made me exhaust every resource I had available just so that I might be able to help her. And for nothing. For nothing. This woman is why people’s cries for help go unheeded, because no one takes them seriously anymore.
Some people may laugh at me, calling me an easy target for cons and such, telling me that people aren’t serious when they threaten suicide. But I have lost several people to suicide, and although some went without warning, some have cried out. So how can I make that call, especially when I barely know this woman?
So this is a message to everyone who thinks threatening suicide is the way to go for getting something out of someone close to you. Just look at what two tweets did to me, a completely innocent person who didn’t know you. You are hurting far more people than you think, including yourself, because if you ever need help for real, good luck finding a sympathetic ear.
I hope you never lose someone due to suicide. If you ever do, you will understand the wounds that person left behind in their family, their friends, their community. You will see how their mother’s health rapidly declines because she can’t live with the guilt, the anger, the wondering why. Then you will know exactly why I am so angry with you for toying with everyone just for shits and giggles.
I found her new username, and gave her a right talking to, along with some others who did a fine job, and to her credit, she did apologize. I hope her apology is sincere and she never, ever, ever does that shit again.
And here’s a message for the volunteer working last night at the Distress Centre here in Guelph. the girl on Twitter is fine. Everyone is fine. I tried to call in this morning and let the girl know who was manning the phones so she could pass on the message, but she did not understand. Oh well. Maybe you’ll find this blog entry.
So please, everyone, stay safe, and for those of you who are in distress, get the help you need. If anyone out there is contemplating suicide, there is help and there are suicide prevention hotlines. Use them. And for anyone out there who is contemplating threatening suicide just to hurt someone, grow the hell up and learn some real coping strategies, will ya?