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Facebook Steps Up Suicide Prevention Efforts


The move, including tests of artificial intelligence, comes after some people live-streamed suicides on the site.

Facebook is rolling out new suicide prevention tools, in the wake of some people having live-streamed suicides on its Facebook Live feature.

The site will integrate suicide prevention help into Facebook Live, allowing users to access assistance immediately, officials announced today. It will also offer live chat support from crisis support organizations through its Messenger application, and it is testing artificial intelligence designed to streamline the reporting of posts indicating suicidal thoughts.

Suicide prevention tools have been available on Facebook for some time — for instance, links to support groups, prompts to reach out to a friend, and means for users to report friends’ posts that exhibit intentions of self-harm. Today’s update is aimed at making them quicker and easier to use.

“Our suicide prevention tools for Facebook posts will now be integrated into Facebook Live,” says a letter from site staffers. “People watching a live video have the option to reach out to the person directly and to report the video to us. We will also provide resources to the person reporting the live video to assist them in helping their friend.” The person sharing the video will see resources on their screen and can choose to reach out to a friend, contact a help line, or see tips.

People will be able to connect with support organizations through Messenger, with the option to message users directly from an organization’s page.  Participating groups include Crisis Text Line, the National Eating Disorder Association, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Facebook and the participating groups are launching a video campaign to raise awareness of prevention services.

In the most innovative move, Facebook is testing pattern recognition, an artificial intelligence program, as a means to make it easier to report posts indicating intents of self-harm. This “will make the option to report a post about ‘suicide or self injury’ more prominent,” the letter says. The site is also testing pattern recognition “to identify posts as very likely to include thoughts of suicide,” even if these posts have not been reported, with Facebook then sending resources to the user if deemed necessary. The test is starting in the U.S.

It’s relatively rare for suicides to be streamed on Facebook Live, a real-time video service launched last year, but there have been some instances, USA Today reports. I January a 14-year-old girl in Florida and a 33-year-old man in Los Angeles streamed their suicides on the service.

"Some people may say we should cut off the stream the moment there's a hint of somebody talking about suicide, but what we learned from the experts and what they emphasized to us is that cutting off the stream too early removes the chance of someone being able to reach out and provide help," Jennifer Guadagno, Facebook's lead researcher for suicide prevention, told USA Today. "In this way, Live becomes a lifeline. It opens up the opportunity for people to reach out for support and for people to give support at this time that's critically important."

LGBT people, especially young people, are at higher risk for suicide than the general population. The rate of suicide attempts is four times greater for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and two times greater for questioning youth than that of straight youth. Forty percent of transgender adults told a recent national survey that they made a suicide attempt; 92 percent of them reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. Advances toward equality, however, are linked to a lowering of the suicide rate, a recent study indicated.

LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) who are considering suicide can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at (866) 488-7386. If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at (877) 565-8860. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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