Facebook ramps up efforts to prevent suicide
Nearly 100 Americans commit suicide daily. The goal is to reduce that number by providing the help through the social network.
According to CNN, the suicide prevention tool has been in place since summer, but Facebook is "expanding a partnership with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration."
There are a few ways to report a friend that is expressing suicidal thoughts.
From the Facebook news feed, you can click the "Report story or spam" button next to post in question. Once the story is hidden, text will appear that says, "If this story is abusive, please file a report." If you click on the link, a box will appear with options. Select "Violence or harmful behavior." A drop-down menu will appear that lists, among other things, "Self-harm" and "Suicidal content."
Friends don't have to post updates to get the help they need. You can also report a friend by using Facebook's Report Suicidal Content page.
When reports like these come through, Facebook's safety team reviews the content and sends them to Lifeline. Facebook sends an email to the user that's been reported, which includes Lifeline's phone number and a link to start a confidential chat session. After that, it's up to the recipient to respond.
Facebook also sends whoever filed the report and email to let them know the site has responded. The social network realizes the system isn't full proof for emergencies, so they encourage you to call law enforcement if the harmful behavior appears imminent.
"One of the big goals here is to get the person in distress into the right help as soon as possible," said Fred Wolens, Facebook's public policy manager.
Facebook has over 800 million users and the social network is adding the new tools to improve safety on the site. In an age of texting over talking, the instant messaging gives users a non-threatening way to reach out.
There have been a few high-profile suicide notes left on Facebook.
In Sept. 2010, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate allegedly used a webcam to spy on his intimate encounter with another man.
His final update read, "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.[sic]"
A U.K. woman with 1,082 friends wrote on Facebook, "Took all my pills be dead soon so bye bye every one.[sic]" Police suspect she died on Christmas day in 2010 of suicide, while her friends mocked her status update, calling her a liar.
Last month, authorities in Pittsburg, Calif., said a man posted a suicide note on Facebook before he killed his wife and in-laws, then himself.
Facebook is in good company. Google and Yahoo already place a phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline above all of suicide-related searches.
One thing users of the feature should keep in mind is that because Facebook is considered a public forum, information provided to the company is not protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).
"Information on a person's mental state might be subpoenaed from Facebook," Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum told National Public Radio.
However, that's only a minor consideration if a friend is on the brink of suicide. If Facebook can prevent self-harm, that should take precedence.
Lifeline currently responds to dozens of users on Facebook each day. Crisis center workers will be available 24 hours a day to respond to users selecting the chat option.
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