Facebook Takes Steps to Prevent Suicide

June 14, 2016, 6:35 PM UTC
#CDUdigital Conference In Berlin
BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 12: A visitor uses a mobile phone in front of the Facebook logo at the #CDUdigital conference on September 12, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. The world's largest social media network was launched by Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard College roommates in 2004, and had its initial public offering in February 2012. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
Photograph by Adam Berry — Getty Images

Over the years, Facebook has gone from being a clever site for Harvard students to look up their classmates to a place where users share everything from news articles to baby photos—and unfortunately, sometimes clues that they need help.

On Tuesday, Facebook said it had built new tools to help users who are considering suicide or hurting themselves along with friends and family members who suspect a loved one is at risk. Facebook says it worked with mental health and suicide prevention organizations, including the U.S.-based Forefront, Lifeline, and Save.org to develop the tools.

Users who notice a worrisome post from a friend can now report it to Facebook’s global team of round-the-clock monitors, who are trained to spot content that suggests a user is a suicide risk, according to the New York Times. Posts that are flagged will be given priority, and the person who posted the content will be prompted with a few options next time they log into Facebook, including tips and resources, and the ability to reach out to a friend on Facebook for support.

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The person who reported the post will also be given a similar menu, with the ability to contact the friend in distress or a mutual friend. Facebook will also provide suggested messages that they can send to make it easier to reach out effectively. With that said, Facebook still advises users to immediately contact local emergency services if they believe someone is in danger. The new tools are rolling out globally and in all languages supported by Facebook.

Facebook’s new tool comes amid growing concern about its influence. In 2014, the company came under fire for running experiments that tried to manipulate users’ emotions by skewing the content it displayed to them. It has also long been criticized for the amount of data it collects about its users to help advertisers better target them with ads, creating privacy concerns.

Moreover, Facebook’s new tool may not necessarily help in all cases. As one user noted on the company’s announcement on Facebook: “Some people who are ready to end their life will not seek or even agree to help. People who feel suicidal are going to give very limited indications that they have had enough of life.”

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