Imagine opening up a social media platform and reading a post leading you to believe someone may be contemplating suicide – What would you do? This scenario recently landed in the lap of a teenage Colorado girl. It was no accidental discovery though; this young lady is part of a loosely knit group of people who form Compassion Alert on the microblogging website,  Tumblr is a site where people can post just about anything, like photos, videos, music, quotes, or basically anything impacting their lives.

Compassion Alert is a group and page formed on Tumblr to assist those contemplating suicide.  “Compassion Alert’s mission is to help Tumbloggers execute ‘reverse cyber-bullying’. We strive to let those who think they are alone know that they are not, with a strong focus on those who are considering suicide.”  The page was created by a 19-year-old young lady named Madden.  The page advises those contemplating suicide to seek professional and public safety assistance, immediately.  But, moreover, the page also acts as a message conduit to notify Compassion Alert’s followers about messages and posts by other Tumblr members, where indications of potential suicide or depression are present.  Messages are categorized by severity and then posted.  Compassion Alert members will acknowledge the post and advise if they can attempt communication with the depressed or suicidal individual. Their presence can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Like other members of Compassion Alert, our Colorado teen was volunteering her time to review and respond to alerts one evening, not too long ago.  She came across an alert that said a teenager had posted a photo and messages on Tumblr talking about committing suicide.  The Colorado girl looked further into the postings and was able to determine the suicidal teen possibly lived in Arcadia, CA.  Concerned for the safety of the suicidal teen, the volunteer called the Arcadia Police Department and reported the posts, asking the police for assistance.

The police dispatcher taking the call was not familiar with Tumblr, other than it was a social media platform.  The dispatcher took the information and sought the advice of a patrol supervisor, who was better versed in Tumblr.  The supervisor was able to cross-reference the possible victim’s information between Tumblr and Facebook, with other departmental resources, and located a friend of the victim. The victim’s friend was able to provide a home address for the victim. Officers went to the victim’s home and with the help of the victim’s parents, appropriate medical and professional assistance was obtained for the teen.

This story is a great example of volunteerism and caring at its best. From Madden taking time to create and monitor Compassion Alert, to the young Colorado teen caring enough to get involved, and to the teamwork displayed by public safety personnel, each individual deserves acknowledgement.  Job well done!  Thankfully, staff was familiar enough with social media to have a positive impact on this incident.  Take note public safety – train your personnel in new technology, terminology, and Internet based platforms used by your community.  Traditional response and investigative means for handling calls for service may not work in the virtual or Internet based society where we now live.

This incident is also an example of how social media can play a role in saving lives.  Many people share personal information about their lives quite openly on various social media platforms.  A good majority of this information can place persons in danger or perhaps cause them to be victimized by outsiders viewing the posts. Thankfully, the outsiders viewing this post and others like it were doing so while looking out for the safety of another.  In this case, social media and volunteerism contributed to quite possibly saving a life.  Great timing for this post since we are acknowledging the work of all volunteers this week as National Volunteer Week 2012.