WA School Shooting Issue: Can Troubled Teens Be Reached Online?


In the days after five students at Washington State’s Marysville-Pilchuck High School were shot by a friend, who then turned the gun on himself, updates from teens flooded Twitter, everything from rumors to news tidbits to outpourings of emotion, says the Seattle Times. The shooter's Twitter feed was viewable, and it displayed a simmering angst in 15-year-old Jaylen Fryberg that went back months, filled with anger and vows of retribution, despite the fact that he was crowned homecoming prince of the freshman class. Within a day of the assault, victim Shaylee Chuckulnaskit, 14, had 3,000 people following her Twitter account, even as she lay in a hospital, fighting for her life. She died Friday.

The surging popularity of social media among teens has not been lost on public-health advocates, who are working with Facebook to reach students in trouble. They say many young people are far more comfortable facelessly typing their pain on a keyboard and hitting “send” than walking into a counselor's office to ask for help directly. Fryberg's tweet on June 20 could be a prime example: “Might as well die now,” he wrote. To Lauren Davis, at the suicide-prevention group Forefront, which is housed at the University of Washington and has contracted with Facebook to improve outreach to kids in distress, the teen's posts were textbook. Facebook contacted Forefront last summer and has continued to meet with Davis and her colleagues, discussing ways that social media can better reach young people who may need help, and aid concerned friends.

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