A quick Google search of “suicide note” and “Facebook” reveals that more than a dozen people who recently committed violent acts against themselves and others first announced their intention on the social networking site. It’s likely that dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other examples have not gotten public attention.
With a fraction of the enormous resources devoted to targeting advertising to its 500 million active users, Facebook, as well as YouTube, MySpace and other mega online communities, could begin saving lives tomorrow by implementing systems that immediately flag and capture postings and status updates threatening violence and notify emergency, crisis response, or law enforcement.
We’ll never know if such a system could have helped protect U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords today or save the lives of Chief Judge John Roll, Gabe Zimmerman, or any of the others killed in the violent rampage outside an Arizona grocery store, including a nine-year-old girl.
Facebook, YouTube and others who have generated billions in revenues building and selling to online communities have the resources today to help make sure we don’t have to wonder tomorrow.