Facebook is using AI to help people who may be considering suicide

It's one of the latest updates to Facebook's suicide prevention tools.
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Facebook is making some changes in hopes of helping more people who may be considering suicide.

Facebook has had suicide prevention tools for a decade, and on Wednesday it updated these to make it easier for the online community to help each other.

"Preventing suicide is complicated, but experts say one of the best ways to help is if someone who is in distress hears from people who care about them," Mark Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook to announce the updates to the website's suicide prevention tools

Today we're introducing updated tools and resources for people who may be contemplating suicide, as well as the support we offer to their concerned friends and family members. Now our suicide prevention tools for Facebook posts will be available on Live videos in real time. People watching will have the option to reach out to the person directly and also report the stream to us. We also provide additional resources to assist that person in helping their friend. The person using Live will see a set of options as they are streaming. They can now choose to reach out to a friend, contact a helpline or see tips. Experts say that the best way to prevent suicide is for those in distress to hear from people who care about them. We are also launching a campaign with partners around the world to raise awareness and encourage people to reach out if they see a friend is in distress. When friends are in need, reaching out can make a difference.

Posted by Facebook Safety on Wednesday, March 1, 2017

One new thing Facebook is testing is using artificial intelligence to help spot people who may be struggling.

This system looks for patterns in posts that have been reported for suicide risk. Using that pattern, Facebook will identify posts that seem concerning, and make the option for people to report the post for "suicide or self injury" more prominent.

Then, when a user clicks the option on their friend's post, Facebook will reach out to the poster with resources.

But AI will go further than that. Facebook is testing a pattern recognition that would identify posts as "very likely" to include thoughts of suicide. A member of the Facebook team will review the post, and if it makes sense, will provide suicide-prevention resources to the poster – even if no one has reported the post for a potential suicide risk.

Other steps Facebook is taking in suicide prevention include:

  • Adding suicide-prevention tools to Facebook live. Now, if you're watching a live video it will give you the option to reach out to the person sharing the video – and Facebook will give you resources to help you help them. The person who is sharing the video will also see resources on their screen. (USA Today reports there are at least seven instances in which someone has live streamed their suicide – although not all of them happened on Facebook.)
  • Facebook is also making it easier to live chat with someone from a crisis support organization through Messenger. The option will be available on organizations' Facebook pages, as well as through Facebook's suicide prevention tools.

“It’s important that community members, whether they’re online or offline, don’t feel that they are helpless bystanders when dangerous behavior is occurring,” Dr. John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, said in a statement. “Facebook’s approach is unique. Their tools enable their community members to actively care, provide support, and report concerns when necessary.”

Suicide in Minnesota

The annual rate of suicide has been trending upward both in Minnesota and nationallyaccording to the Minnesota Department of Health.

In 2015, there were 726 suicide deaths in Minnesota, the health department’s most recent data shows. That’s a 6 percent increase from the 686 Minnesotans who died by suicide in 2014.

That increase was driven by the number of men who took their own life, with the health department noting half of the increase in suicides happened among white men ages 25-34.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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