Facebook has announced that it will be teaming up with Save.org, a suicide prevention group, in a project that will analyze “suicide warning signs” that are posted via social media. After the apparent suicide of Aaron Swartz, an Internet activist, public interest in the issue has been renewed. On January 11, Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment.
Studying Suicidal Behavior Online
Facebook and Save will be analyzing the online posts of about 20 people from Minnesota who committed suicide recently. Specifically, they will be studying the suicide victims’ behaviors online, particularly during the months leading to their deaths. According to Save.org, this will provide their researchers with patterns that can help detect potential suicide cases as soon as possible, and possibly prevent them. The data gathering process for the study is estimated to take around 12 months.
Using Social Media for Suicide Prevention
In an interview with Bloomberg, Save’s executive director Dan Reidenberg explained that traditionally, suicide prevention groups depended on the memories of victims’ families in looking for warning signs. However, these memories are often difficult to remember, and friends of victims don’t usually ask personal questions dues to “fear of being invasive.”
Hence, social media is now being seen as a potential source of these “suicide warning signs.” Reidenberg said that if their group can understand what is happening, they can eventually train people on how to look for these signs.
Notably, Facebook is not the first social network to engage in suicide prevention. Google, for its part, has set up its search engine to display the number of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline every time “suicide” and other related words are searched.