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Facebook Addresses Growing Issue of Livestreamed Suicides

Facebook is turning to artificial intelligence to help identify posts showing suicidal tendencies, putting the technology in the powerful position to possibly help save lives.

The social network, which has more than 1.8 billion users, announced a suite of new suicide prevention tools on Wednesday, including a streamlined reporting process aided by artificial intelligence, an easier way to get help during a Facebook Live video, and the option to get help via Messenger.

Image: Facebook introduced suicide prevention and mental health support tools
Facebook introduced suicide prevention and mental health support tools. Facebook

But is a machine better than a human when it comes to flagging troubled posts? For now, Facebook is testing its algorithm in the United States, using pattern recognition in posts previously reported for suicide.

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Facebook will then make the option to report a post more prominent for anything that may be a red flag. The algorithm is also working to "identify posts as very likely to include thoughts of suicide." After those posts have been flagged, a human member of Facebook's team will review them and, if appropriate, reach out to the person with resources.

"Experts say that one of the best ways to prevent suicide is for those in distress to hear from people who care about them," a Facebook blog post said. "Facebook is in a unique position — through friendships on the site — to help connect a person in distress with people who can support them."

Image: Facebook introduced suicide prevention and mental health support tools
Facebook introduced suicide prevention and mental health support tools. Facebook

Suicide prevention tools have been on Facebook for the past decade, allowing friends to report a post and providing suggested ways to start a dialogue with a friend who may be having a hard time. The idea is for these new tools to take it to the next level, ensuring no one slips through the cracks.

A person seeking help will also be able to connect in real-time on Messenger with organizations including the Crisis Text Line, the National Eating Disorder Association and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Facebook is also integrating its suicide prevention tools into Facebook Live, allowing viewers the option to report a video and to get resources to help them reach out to a friend in need. The person sharing the video will also see resources on their screen, letting them contact a helpline, reach out to a friend or get tips on what they can do.

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The integration into Facebook Live comes after several reports of children and adults broadcasting suicides on Facebook Live.

"Suicide prevention is one way we're working to build a safer community on Facebook," the blog post said. "With the help of our partners and people's friends and family members on Facebook, we're hopeful we can support more people over time."