On Feb. 25, Facebook announced new updates that would provide more resources and support for users who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts. One of the new features is an option to report Facebook friends’ posts if they appear to indicate a direct threat of suicide.
Once a post is reported, safety specialists will review the content; if they believe the person is at risk, Facebook sends a supportive message and gives them the option to speak to a friend or a helpline worker or learn tips about working through their difficult situation. The website would also offer expert-developed advice for handling negative thoughts as well as videos from others who have dealt with suicidal thoughts, according to Yahoo! Health.
To develop the program, Facebook partnered with several mental health organizations, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Facebook has had suicide prevention strategies since 2008, with workers on call 24/7 from Ireland, India and the U.S. However, the website did not have the expertise to guarantee they were giving the right advice, Facebook product manager Rob Boyle told Yahoo News.
The rise of social networking in recent times has led some to study its effects on suicidal behavior. According to NPR, Ohio State University professor Scottye Cash has found that youth increasingly express their difficulties through social media, rather than finding assistance through traditional outlets. Since 81 percent of people in the U.S. use Facebook, the new tools could have a large impact, Boyle told Yahoo News. AHS’ Lead Psychologist Jan Stas also agreed that Facebook’s new feature would be beneficial, saying that it will have an impact by helping those struggling with suicidal thoughts.
However, some have raised concerns about the new features. According to Newsweek, Kristina Kersting of youth crisis intervention organization Kids Under Twenty One notes that the tools may not provide long-term assistance and could be used for bullying purposes.
“I don’t think [the resources] will be that helpful. People like that have probably been told encouraging things before but still have suicidal tendencies. Sending a message with hotlines can only help so much if the person doesn’t have consistent support,” junior Ashley Beltran said.
Others have raised privacy concerns, questioning whether Facebook should actively monitor and respond to user content. In July 2014, some reacted negatively after Facebook revealed it had manipulated the news feeds of about 700,000 unknowing users for research purposes in 2012, according to the Telegraph. In the second half of 2014, Facebook had also received about 35,000 requests from international governments for user data relating to criminal cases, as revealed by the website’s Global Government Requests Report, according to CNET.
Although the new options are currently only offered to users in the U.S., Facebook plans to expand the program to international users over the next few months.