Facebook is a hotbed for bullying, fake profiles and offensive content, so the Palo Alto, Calif.-based social network announced Tuesday it would launch a new platform that allows users to instantly connect with real crisis counselors through Facebook's chat system for messaging.
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 manager for public policy.
When someone searches the word suicide in Google and Yahoo, the two search engines always provide the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as the first result. Facebook used to e-mail users or their friends to contact law enforcement if they believed someone was going to harm themselves, but by providing a space where someone can instantly have someone to talk to, Facebook has gone above and beyond in its fight to end online bullying and suicide.
The science shows that people experience reductions in suicidal thinking when there is quick intervention, said Lidia Bernik, the Lifeline's associate project director. We've heard from many people who say they want to talk to someone but don't want to call. Instant message is perfect for that.
Facebook has never instituted scanning software to look for suicidal thoughts or expressions, because the company says it would be logistically difficult and easy to misinterpret.
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The only people who will have a really good idea of what's going on is your friends so we're encouraging them to speak up and giving them an easy and quick way to get help, Wolens said.
In Facebook's new system, if a friend believes someone is in danger of potentially harming or killing themselves, they have an option to report the post to Facebook by clicking a link at the bottom of the comment. Facebook promises to quickly respond with an e-mail to the person who made the comment, encouraging them to either call a hotline or click on a given link to launch a confidential chat with a suicide prevention expert.
Facebook has been one of the first stops people go to announce a suicide or announce an attempt. Unfortunately, many of the attempts have been successful. On Saturday, a man told his Facebook friends to call 911 after he confessed in a post to killing his ex-girlfriend and her friend, both 19-years old, and then killing himself. In November, a man from Pittsburg, Calif., announced his suicide on Facebook before then killing his wife, his in-laws, and finally himself.
A few suicide attempts have been thwarted, too, thanks to Facebook. A Pennsylvania man alerted local police that his friend in California was going to commit suicide, and the authorities were able to apprehend the friend in time before he had a chance to hurt himself. The California man was committed to a hospital.
The Lifeline will be available to users 24 hours a day, with crisis workers always ready to chat.
We have effective treatments to help suicidal individuals regain hope and a desire to live and we know how powerful personal connections and support can be, said the U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. Facebook and the Lifeline are to be commended for addressing one of this nation's most tragic public health problems.
Nearly 100 Americans die by suicide each day, and the U.S. records almost 36,035 suicide cases per year, according to Benjamin's office.