In Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent manifesto, he wrote about how Facebook is in a unique position to help prevent people from doing harm to themselves. Worldwide, there is a suicide attempt every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organization. Among those aged 15-29 years old, suicide is the second leading cause of death.
Today, Facebook is unveiling new tools to provide support to people who may be suicidal, as well as resources for friends of those who are feeling suicidal via Facebook Live and Messenger. These tools are in addition to the ones Facebook offers for people who see concerning posts and want to help their friends or family.
Let’s say you’re watching your friend stream something via Facebook Live and they say something that worries you. You’ll now be able to reach out to the person and report the video to Facebook, which will be able to provide a set of resources to the person while they’re streaming via Live. The resources include reaching out to a friend, contacting a helpline or seeing tips and suggestions about working through difficult times.
“Some might say we should cut off the livestream, but what we’ve learned is cutting off the stream too early could remove the opportunity for that person to receive help,” Facebook Researcher Jennifer Guadagno told me.
Facebook did not do this by themselves. It partnered with organizations like the Crisis Text Line, the National Eating Disorder Association and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Through those partnerships, those in crisis will be able to immediately and directly connect with mental health service providers through Facebook Messenger.
“What we heard from various people is any extra friction in someone reaching out for support can be the thing that stops them from getting support,” Facebook Product Manager Vanessa Callison-Burch told TechCrunch. “We’re hopeful that having this as an additional way to connect to support reduces the friction.”
Facebook is also utilizing artificial intelligence and pattern recognition based on previously reported posts to identify posts by people who may be suicidal. If the pattern recognition tool flags a post, Facebook’s community operations team will review it and provide resources if necessary.
Facebook said it “might be possible in the future” to bring this sort of AI and pattern recognition to Facebook Live and Messenger, but the team said it’s too early to say for sure.