Is there such thing as Internet Emergency Services?
November 5, 2015 8:32 AM   Subscribe

What do you do when someone halfway around the world is threatening suicide online in real time? Had a scary periscope experience last night, and my instinct to do something was impeded by not even knowing where to start.

A friend was showing me Periscope and clicked on a video that was something like, "Going to end it all, have gun" and the stream revealed a crying woman with a gun and talking about taking the next step. I couldn't tell if it was a real weapon or not. I googled her user name on my phone, saw she was in New South Wales, but no immediate real name came up.

What did I do? I had my friend send her messages on periscope like, "You matter. Please don't do this." I tweeted at the most famous person I follow on twitter hoping that he could broadcast to find me help. Based on his help, I sent a note to @periscopehelp with the username. She was calming down and talking to the stream about what sent her over the edge. I don't know how she is today.

I mean, my phone was at 4% at the time; I didn't know how to call New South Wales police, and how do I even explain to them, "Hi, I'm an American on the East Coast watching someone in your town threaten suicide online. Can you go help her? No, I don't know her name or address."

I know here at mefi we have the There Is Help page on the wiki. Reddit has some resources, and that is text based so it seems like there's a little more time to track them down if they are responding in a thread. The immediacy of what this woman could do in realtime was scary, and I want to know what to do if it happens again.

To summarize, I want to know:

- Who do you contact in this situation?
- What do you say when you contact them?

Anything you guys might have would be great. Yes, I'm a little traumatized, but I will be okay.
posted by frecklefaerie to Human Relations (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
When I worked on this as a community manager on a text based site, our site policy was to remove the posts, and contact the police in the jurisdiction of the person. We had the advantage of knowing where they were because we had their IP address. Googling 'how to contact the police in [wherever]' generally brings up the information you need.

Contacting Periscope itself was definitely the right move, because they probably do (or definitely should) have a policy on this stuff, and they should be able to handle it appropriately.

Having had somewhat similar conversations with various police forces, it really depends on the person you're talking to whether you have any luck with the conversation. Some officers are internet savvy and understand the sort of issue you're bringing to them, and understand why someone from across the world is calling them about it, and some simply don't get it. In terms of what to say, tell them what you're seeing, and be prepared to send them a link to the stream if there's a publicly accessible way for them to view it so they can see for themselves.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:46 AM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

The MeFi Wiki has a page on getting and providing help internationally: There Is Help (mentioned on MetaTalk previously a few times).

For New Zealand, there is one agency listed, Lifeline New Zealand:
- Lifeline Auckland: (9) 5222-999
- Outside Auckland: 0800 111-777
- Online:
posted by filthy light thief at 9:19 AM on November 5, 2015

(New South Wales is in Australia, FYI)
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:31 AM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

You can contact your local suicide hotline for guidance and support. You don't have to personally be experiencing a crisis to get help - they can help process the emotional reaction to someone else's immediate danger, and likely can make referrals to additional resources.
posted by Little Dawn at 9:51 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine was posting some very clear suicidal things on Facebook one evening. I live 2,000 miles away, so I called the police in his area and asked what I could do.

Their advice: there's nothing you can do. They wouldn't do a welfare check without proof of an imminent crime. This was in a major metropolitan area of the U.S.

I guess people threaten suicide a lot more than they actually attempt it, so it isn't worth their time...?
posted by tacodave at 3:33 PM on November 5, 2015

I work for the ambulance service (in the UK) - we sometimes get calls about things like this. Sadly, there is not a lot we can do to track these people down, and therefore not a lot we can do to help. The police can do a little more, especially if the person is in a public place. My advice would be to contact any close friends or relations of the person you can find (if possible), and then leave it to them. They may be able to intervene themselves or call a social worker or mental health professional known to the person. This is usually preferable to getting the police involved - the sight of the police can distress the person further. If that's not possible, the contact the owner of the website, they may have some details which aren't public that they can use to help (probably by contacting the police). If all else fails, contact the police yourself but they may not be able to help. Ultimately though, you may have to accept that there is nothing that can be done to help unless the person decides they want you to.
posted by intensitymultiply at 1:43 AM on November 6, 2015

Thanks, everyone. jacquilynne gave a good overview of what to do immediately in these cases. Sadly, I doubt this is the only time I will come across this kind of thing.

I'm a decent internet sleuth, but I didn't have time or the right equipment to do the deep searching for friends/family/addresses. I didn't necessarily want to violate this stranger's privacy by essentially doxxing them and posting to social media, either.

Having lost more than my share of friends to suicide made me jump into action mode. If it is possible to do anything to help them, I wanted to do it.

BTW, I did know that NSW is in Australia. I just didn't know how to call there from the US!
posted by frecklefaerie at 12:58 PM on November 6, 2015

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