In Screening for Suicide Risk, Facebook Takes On Tricky Public Health Role

“It’s hard to know what Facebook is actually picking up on, what they are actually acting on, and are they giving the appropriate response to the appropriate risk,” stated Dr. John Torous, director of the digital psychiatry division at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “It’s black box medicine.”

Facebook stated it labored with suicide prevention consultants to develop a complete program to rapidly join customers in misery with buddies and ship them contact data for assist traces. It stated consultants additionally helped practice devoted Facebook groups, who’ve expertise in regulation enforcement and disaster response, to evaluate essentially the most pressing circumstances. Those reviewers contact emergency providers solely in a minority of circumstances, when customers seem at imminent threat of great self-harm, the corporate stated.

“While our efforts are not perfect, we have decided to err on the side of providing people who need help with resources as soon as possible,” Emily Cain, a Facebook spokeswoman, stated in an announcement.

[Share an expertise about Facebook’s suicide prevention program with The New York Times.]

In a September put up, Facebook described the way it had developed a sample recognition system to routinely rating sure consumer posts and feedback for chance of suicidal ideas. The system routinely escalates high-scoring posts, in addition to posts submitted by involved customers, to specifically educated reviewers.

“Facebook has always been way ahead of the pack,” stated John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, “not only in suicide prevention, but in taking an extra step toward innovation and engaging us with really intelligent and forward-thinking approaches.” (Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit group administering the Lifeline, has suggested and acquired funding from Facebook.)

Facebook stated its suicide threat scoring system labored worldwide in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic — besides for within the European Union, the place information safety legal guidelines prohibit the gathering of non-public particulars like well being data. To choose out, folks can cease posting on Facebook or delete their Facebook accounts.

A evaluate of 4 police stories, obtained by The Times underneath Freedom of Information Act requests, means that Facebook’s method has had combined outcomes. Except for the Ohio case, police departments redacted the names of the folks flagged by Facebook.

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