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Facebook’s new suicide prevention algorithm will literally save lives

(TECH NEWS) Facebook’s new algorithm might step on a few privacy toes, but it will absolutely save lives.


The face behind the Facebook

Like it or not social media is a version of our second selves. An outlet for us to express our deepest desires, funniest quips, and scariest most sincere moments.

Call them false, attention seeking, or paint all social posts a rosy shade of ego inflation. But they do tell a story, and sometimes, if that story is very sad, it faces an early end.

Hard truths

Stories of people posting suicide notes on Facebook are no longer internet lore, but the stuff of real nightmares.

The addition of Facebook live adds a whole new realm of horrific possibilities.

One fourteen year old girl even live streamed her own suicide earlier this year.

Both the problem and the solution

Determined to solve one of the problems it helped to create — one of the leading causes of suicide is bullying often perpetrated on their site — Facebook has created an algorithm to help identify users who may be reaching out for help.

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The algorithm may be triggered by the users own posts or responses from friends like “I’m worried about you,” or “Are you okay?”

Price of privacy

Facebook’s response may seem tepid in a life or death situation, but it is necessarily sparse considering users’ privacy is at stake.

When the algorithm identifies a person at risk of harming themselves, their information gets passed to the real live humans at Facebook’s Community operations team for review.

They will, in turn, contact the user and offer them options and advice to help them through their situation.

Reaching out

Through a message or in app pop up, Facebook will suggest the user – Call a friend, call a suicide hotline, or get tips and support.

In the U.S. users can even contact suicide prevention counselors via Facebook messenger.

According to experts the best way to help in crises like these, is for friends and family to reach out to the person in need. But Facebook can’t facilitate such connections without violating users’ privacy.

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“We’re sensitive to privacy and I think we don’t always know the personal dynamics between people and their friends in that way, so we’re trying to do something that offers support and options,” Vanessa Callison-Burch, Facebooks product manager, told the BBC in an interview.

Using Facebook for good

People viewing upsetting or life threatening behavior on Facebook live can report the video as suicidal or self injuring content.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Facebook can contact the person in crisis, and give the concerned user tips on how to help.” quote=”From there Facebook can contact the person in crisis, as well as give the concerned user tips for how to help a friend in need.”]

A brief google search will result in hundreds of Facebook suicide notes, some of them prevented by friends, some of them ignored. But facebook, even now, can only do so much.
We all need to keep close watch on our kin, and try to recognize the behaviors of people at risk of hurting themselves.

Prevention is a step closer with Facebook’s new algorithms, and privacy, mostly for the better, may be a few steps further away.


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Written By

C. L. Brenton is a staff writer at The American Genius. She loves writing about all things, she’s even won some contests doing it! For everything C. L. check out her website



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