Social networking giant Facebook launched a suicide protection effort Tuesday. Facebook hopes to help users who express suicidal thoughts on the site by connecting them with a crisis counselor through the site's chat system.
Facebook has over 800 million users worldwide and has made an increased effort in the past few months to improve safety controls and protect its members.
Earlier this year, Facebook announced changes to help users report bullying, offensive content and fake profiles. The company now seeks to make it easier for users who need help emotionally and encourages users to reach out to a suicide prevention counselor.
One of the big goals here is to get the person in distress into the right help as soon as possible, Fred Wolens, public policy manager at Facebook, told The Associated Press.
While some members have expressed worries that a cynical comment or joke may be flagged for sucide watch, Facebook says that privacy issues should not be a concern.
Instead, the social networking site will require users to report comments posted by friends or family members that sound suicidal or imply self-harm. The reports will be sent to Facebook's suicide protection program and members will receive an email with the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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.
Google and Yahoo already have similar protective measures. If someone searches suicide on either of the search engines, they are directed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number as well.
The science shows that people experience reductions in suicidal thinking when there is quick intervention, said Lidia Bernik, associate director of Lifeline, told PCMag. 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.
The Lifeline already responds to dozens of users on Facebook every day. Facebook also has 24 hour crisis center workers available to chat with users.
Earlier this year Facebook and Time Warner also launched an anti-bullying campaign with a Network of Support, including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), MTV's a Thin Line campaign, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the Trevor Project, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
Facebook's suicide prevention program follows an increased number of suicides announced or alluded to on social networking sites prior to the act. 18-year-old Ashley Billasano tweeted of the sexual abuse she had endured on Twitter, announced she would kill herself in a tweet and then took her own life.
There has also been an increased incidence of suicide sparked by online bullying, including users posting false or damaging information about each other online and the creation of fake profiles to hassle users.
18-year-old Tyler Clementi jumped off the Washington Bridge after his roommate posted a video of him kissing another man on the internet. Although Clementi reported the video, action was not taken and it lead to the teen taking his life.
In another incident, 14-year-old Jeremy Rodemeyer spoke openly in YouTube videos and on online blogs about the bullying he faced from being openly gay. In September 2011, he committed suicide after posting @ladygaga bye mother monster, thank you for all you have done, paws up forever.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin's office, nearly 100 Americans commit suidicide each day with 36,035 total deaths by suicide a year.
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, Benjamin said in a statement. Facebook and the Lifeline are to be commended for addressing one of this nation's most tragic public health problems.