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Facebook’s New Flagging Tool Looks To Curb Huge Increase In Suicide Rate

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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor
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Facebook is implementing a new feature that allows people to flag their friends’ posts that appear suicidal. Once highlighted, the post is then sent to a special team for review. The Facebook-employed task force will then communicate with the at-risk person to deter any self-inflicted harm.

Suicide rates are at the highest level they have been in over 30 years. A study conducted by Pew Research shows that 72 percent of American internet-users, and 62 percent of the entire adult population, use Facebook. The social media company is using its societal pervasiveness to attempt to curb this growing tendency.

Facebook product manager Vanessa Callison-Burch, said in a statement, “People really want to help, but often they just don’t know what to say, what to do or how to help their friends.” That is why Facebook will also be providing identified people with resources like suicide prevention hotlines and literature. Facebook has consulted with people who have survived suicide attempts as well as mental health organizations, like NowMattersNow.org, Save.org and Forefront.org, to gain any insights on the optimal policies.

Associate professor at the University of Washington, Dr. Jennifer Stuber, believes that Facebook has to be careful not to involve themselves in every aspect of people’s lives. “The company really has to walk a fine line here.” Stuber, who is also faculty director of Forefront, a suicide prevention advocacy group, advises that Facebook should probably take a more restrained approach because “they don’t want to be perceived as ‘Big Brother-ish,’ because people are not expecting Facebook to be monitoring their posts.”

Facebook has gotten in trouble for their data collection and management practices in the past. The social media conglomerate was forced to apologize in 2012 for psychological experiments that were performed secretly on nearly 700,000 users. The company was more recently ensnared in an onslaught of criticism when they were accused of political bias in favor of liberal media.

According to The New York Times, posts flagged as a possible expression of suicidal thoughts will be reviewed on a more urgent basis than posts flagged as objectionable or offensive.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that Suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death in the United States. The foundation emphasizes the fact that “while this data is the most accurate we have, we estimate the numbers to be higher. Stigma surrounding suicide leads to under-reporting, and data collection methods critical to suicide prevention need to be improved.”

Facebook is hoping that new flagging feature will help improve reporting frequency and suicide data collection methods.

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