Facebook is updating its suicide prevention tools and making them available to users around the world. Previously only available in the U.S., the support functions have been expanded to include a mixture of automated and human assistance.
Facebook claims that new tools — which were devised in collaboration with mental health organizations and people who have dealt with personal experiences regarding suicide and self-harm — will make the reporting process even quicker.
Users of the social network will soon be able to flag a friend’s posts that they deem suicidal. A team of Facebook staffers will then review the selected messages and respond with a list of actions they can take, including numbers for suicide prevention help centers. The individual at risk can receive alerts either anonymously or with a message of support from the person that identified them.
Facebook states that it has teams working around the clock to review the reports that come in, and that it prioritizes the most serious cases, such as self-harm. The social network emphasizes that if you are aware of someone in crisis, it is important to first call emergency services.
The timing of the updated tools couldn’t be more relevant, as suicides in the U.S. are at their highest rate in 30 years, and continue to increase worldwide. Additionally, cyberbullying has, in the past, been cited as a reason for the increase in self-harm and suicide among teens. Social media undoubtedly has a role to play in regard to stemming online abuse and its negative affects, but the privacy of users also needs to be taken into account.
Facebook is already facing legal action in both Europe and the U.S. over privacy-related matters. Although its suicide prevention tools set a precedent in the realm of social media, whether its users will view Facebook as a reliable outlet for information on such sensitive issues remains to be seen.