I’ve been spending more time on Facebook lately, getting to know how it works so I can use it when I have an appropriate project. The opportunity just presented itself in the form of an advocacy campaign headed up by my blog friend Jeff Harrell. A couple of years ago, Jeff wrote a moving article about a young woman named Suzanne Gonzales.
Suzy was a bright, bubbly young lady with a quirky sense of humor from a small town in California. After she went off to college, she became depressed and turned to the Internet for support in January 2003. Unfortunately, rather than finding people who wanted to help her recover and live a long, healthy life, Suzy posted a note about her suicidal feelings to the Usenet group alt.suicide.holiday. She was met with relentless discouragement against getting help, and over the following months was encouraged by members of the group to go ahead and commit suicide. This included providing specific details on the best method of killing herself and helping her come up with a plan to carry it out. On March 23, 2003, Suzy took her own life, alone in a Florida hotel room. She was one of many such “successes” to come out of that online group.
Yesterday, Jeff announced on his blog that he would be spearheading an advocacy campaign to help pass the bill currently before the House that was inspired by Suzy’s story. H.R. 940, the Suzanne Gonzales Suicide Prevention Act of 2007 (Suzy’s Law), would make it a crime to use the Internet to promote or encourage suicide.
It’s a very narrow and specific law, designed not to abridge freedom of speech or trample on state-specific laws related to suicide. Telling someone how to commit suicide is already against the law in all 50 states, but there is a need for a federal law to take into account the interstate nature of the Internet. A person can only be convicted under this law if they provided information on how to commit suicide to a particular person whom they knew to be contemplating suicide, and when that information was not generally known. The bill is currently in the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, and requires approximately 50 Congressional co-sponsors to make it to the next step in the process (it currently has 3 co-sponsors).
Jeff has created a striking website to serve as a home base for this advocacy effort (all work on this campaign by Jeff and others is on a volunteer basis). He has made it very easy for people to learn more about the issue, the legislation, and how to help. The main push right now is for people to call to urge their Representative to sign on to H.R. 940 as a co-sponsor of the bill. He provides a zip code look-up to find your Rep’s phone number, along with a two-sentence script that you can use if you’re not sure what to say.
I suggested to Jeff that he use Facebook to get the word out about this campaign quickly and efficiently. It seems like the kind of issue that Internet-savvy, particularly college-age, Facebook users would be interested in supporting and sharing with their friends. When I found out that Jeff was not on Facebook, I decided that this would be a good opportunity for me to set up a Facebook group and learn more about promoting a campaign via a social networking site. The page went live this morning, and includes:
- an introduction to Suzy’s Law
- campaign contact information
- an action request to call Congress
- a pointer to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for people who might find the page because they or someone they know is suicidal
- additional resources about suicide prevention
- photos of Suzy
- links to the story Jeff wrote about Suzy and to the website her family created in her memory
- a discussion board with the starter topic of “Have you ever had a friend who was suicidal? What did you do?”
- and a post on the Wall about National Depression Screening Day, which is tomorrow, Thursday October 11.
I invited my Facebook friends (almost 50 people) to join, and Jeff posted a link to the group on the campaign blog. I left messages on about 8 or 9 other Facebook groups related to suicide prevention, depression and mental health inviting their members to join our group. By the end of the day, we had 17 members in the group — the majority of whom were not from my own network. It’s not a huge number, admittedly, but I will be watching with interest to see how quickly it increases. I’ve had my jealous eye on the “Support the Monks’ Protest in Burma” group, which currently has a whopping 397,000 members and increases by about 17,000 a day (if that’s how often the “new members” feature is updated). I’m looking to that as an example of how to get a group to spread.
If you are on Facebook, please join our “Support Suzy’s Law for Suicide Prevention” group and invite your own friends to join as well. If you’re not on Facebook, it’s free, quick and easy to become a member, and then you can join the group. You can also add me as a friend (here’s my profile – viewable once you have a Facebook account).
Let’s make sure that other young people like Suzy are not persuaded by sick strangers that suicide is the best answer, and then coached on how to take their own lives. If you live in the U.S., I hope you’ll get involved by making that quick and easy phone call to your Representative. And if you live outside the U.S., you can help us by spreading the word to your American friends. Thanks!