facebook introduces new tools to combat suicide

While the site says it is a way to further support its 1.65 billion users, some are asking if the intervention methods are an invasion of privacy.

by Wendy Syfret
15 June 2016, 4:01pm

Image via Facebook

In 2014, real estate broker Carrie Simmons noticed a distressing Facebook update posted by an old high school friend. He'd written a status thanking those who had tried to help him in the past, words Carrie read as a suicide note. She called a friend who was a police officer, and soon after, police found the man in his car with a gun in his hand. He was unharmed and alive today.

Inspired by Carrie's actions, Facebook has spent the past two years looking at ways to flag and address worrying behavior on the site. With 1.65 billion members regularly sharing their thoughts and feelings, they recognized the platform could be a tool for earlier intervention around suicide and self harm. 

On Tuesday, the site rolled out a new feature that allows users to flag worrying posts. Once a post is marked, Facebook will review it and reach out to the person who brought it to their attention, providing them with language to communicate with the person and additional information around suicide prevention. The concerned user will also be offered the option of messaging the person directly — Facebook provides a suggested message — or contact a mutual friend.

Additionally, the next time the user who posted the worrying status logs into their account, a menu of options will appear to them detailing ways they can seek help. In February a study by the company's researchers revealed that almost one third of the posts shared on the site referred to some form of negative feelings. 

Like any feature that sees a private sector business descend deeper into our lives, there's the risk of our privacy being breached. While many view this as a way to lower international suicide rates, others have called it "Big Brother-ish." One can understand that when you're feeling particularly vulnerable, a website might not be the ideal contact point. Facebook is the first major tech company to engage suicide prevention tools in this way; hopefully it will see positive results and mark the beginning of more supportive and engaged social networks. 


Text Wendy Syfret
Image via Facebook

Social Media
suicide prevention