Social media may be best known for hosting selfies and light-hearted status updates, but in various applications, social media is saving lives every day via education, communication, and fund-raising. When a person in need is given access to millions of others through the simple click of a button, a single initiative can quickly change an entire community, state, country, or world, saving lives overnight.
Here are two cases where social media has played an integral role in the implementation of a life-saving initiative and directly impacted the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
Battling Drug Addiction
Police Chief Leonard Campanello of Gloucester, Massachusetts, was devastated to hear of the fourth heroin-related death in his community in just three months. While the traditional law enforcement response to increases in drug-related deaths is to increase the pressure on dealers and addicts, Campanello took a different approach. It all started with a simple social media post asking opiate and heroin users to "let us help you" before they become a statistic.
The response to the post was overwhelming, which led Campanello to explore his idea further. He worked with the mayor of Gloucester to develop a program granting amnesty to drug users who came to the police station in seek of help. He developed partnerships with pharmaceutical companies to get the narcotic-reversing drug Narcan at just $20 a dose. He partnered with rehabilitation facilities across the United States to provide recovery programs to addicts at no cost to them. Finally, he developed a task force so he could assign every drug addict who walked through the doors their own personal "angel" to see them through the process and connect them with the services they needed. Where did he get the funding for this initiative? He used the money confiscated from drug dealers upon arrest.
Campanello took to Facebook to share the initiative, and within days he had millions of clicks. As of August 2015, 109 drug addicts had been placed in recovery centers as a result of the initiative, some traveling from the other side of the nation to get to Gloucester for help. With the reach of social media, Campanello and the Gloucester Police Department are saving lives every day.
Social media also plays a critical part in the lives of addicts by providing an avenue for friends and family to identify warning signs in the addict's posts and updates and keep open communication among the group. Staging an intervention can be a life-saving measure for addicts, and social media can bridge the most effective parties involved.
Youth suicide continues to increase; it's now the second leading cause of death among those aged between 10 and 24. According to The Jason Foundation, there are a staggering 5,400 suicide attempts by young people in the United States every day, and four out of five of them demonstrate clear warning signs before their attempt.
Following two student suicides, a California school district contracted a company to monitor the social networks of its 14,000 students. At a cost of more than $40,000 per year, the service monitors social media posts for indication of suicide, cyberbullying, truancy, or threats to the campus and provides routine, detailed reports on posts that may indicate the need for intervention or follow-up from school faculty. School district leaders review the summary and decide whether to intervene based on the severity of the content and risk posed.
In one case early in the program (and likely much more since then), the report detailed a student's plans for suicide. The school district acted quickly, intervening to connect the student and his parents with the services needed to recover from the crisis. The suicide was prevented due to the monitoring technology.
While the program has been controversial, defenders believe that if it saves a single teen life, it's worth both the controversy and the cost. Because the social media posts being monitored are public, the program is legal despite objections from some parents, students, and activists.
There's more to social media than emoji and hashtags. In a day and age when social platforms reach further and wider than ever before, that connective capacity can be used to actually save lives.
Main image via PhotoDune