Responses to a Self-Presented Suicide Attempt in Social Media: A Social Network Analysis

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Abstract

Background: The self-presentation of suicidal acts in social media has become a public health concern.

Aims:

This article centers on a Chinese microblogger who posted a wrist-cutting picture that was widely circulated in Chinese social media in 2011. This exploratory study examines written reactions of a group of Chinese microbloggers exposed to the post containing a self-harming message and photo. In addition, we investigate the pattern of information diffusion via a social network.

Methods:

We systematically collected and analyzed 5,971 generated microblogs and the network of information diffusion.

Results:

We found that a significant portion of written responses (36.6%) could help vulnerable netizens by providing peer-support and calls for help. These responses were reposted and diffused via an online social network with markedly more clusters of users – and at a faster pace – than a set of randomly generated networks.

Conclusions:

We conclude that social media can be a double-edged sword: While it may contagiously affect others by spreading suicidal thoughts and acts, it may also play a positive role by assisting people at risk for suicide, providing rescue or support. More research is needed to learn how suicidally vulnerable people interact with online suicide information, and how we can effectively intervene.

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