Initial thoughts on Facebook’s suicide prevention tool

Over a year ago now, I blogged about Samaritans Radar, a tool created by the charity that caused a lot of controversy amongst the strong mental health community on Twitter and elsewhere.

I agreed with a lot of the issues people raised, though for me privacy wasn’t top of the agenda, my worry was more around the obligation it placed on individuals to take responsibility for the safety and welfare of others – something our Government should be doing and, increasingly, isn’t.

Since then, Samaritans have been working on an alternative, something I was vaguely part of in the early stages, attending a couple of round-table feedback meetings and sharing my own experience of managing these issues on social media, in an interview format with the Samaritans digital team.

This week, Facebook have launched their suicide prevention tool in the UK, which takes elements of what the Samaritans wanted to achieve with Radar but looks, at face value, to be safer and better.

Three great things:

1. Anonymity for the person flagging that content to Facebook, which means they can look out for their friends without feeling alone and overwhelmed with the responsibility for keeping someone safe


2. A practical and empathetic support journey for the person who’s feeling suicidal, including a prompt the next time they login


3. Support options which connect them (anonymously and by choice) to the Samaritans, who are trained and able to provide the right help. They also get the option to connect with a friend – something that might feel more possible once you know for certain that at least one person in your network is worried about you.

In general I think there is a place for providing interventionist support within social media platforms, but I do have some reservations about the term ‘prevention’ and its potential to reduce the pressure on other agencies to create a society where 6000 people a year don’t attempt and succeed in taking their own lives.

I’m also wary of the passivity of asking for help in such a vulnerable and indirect way – if people need help they should believe in our systems enough to know they’ll get it, but since so much evidence into crisis services suggests that they won’t, people are left posting on Facebook and hoping somebody cares enough to respond.

Image credit: Felicity Morse, BBC Newsbeat.


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