Facebook suicide

Critics who find fault with current society often lay the blame on smartphones and social media channels. It’s hard to argue that these technologies have reshaped individual and communal behaviors, often in was that are not improvements. However, like most technology, the same tools can also be used to accomplish good as well. We’ve reported about other systems that can determine mood from smartphone voice samples. Smartphones may also have a role to play in other preventative health programs.

Case in point: Facebook has revealed that it has enlisted artificial intelligence (AI) to combat suicide among its users. According to Facebook, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds. Facebook has more than 1.2 billion active users on the service every day, which is more than one-sixth of the entire world’s population. It stands to reason that many of those users may be at risk for suicide. The company has had a system in place that allows users to flag posts by other users if they feel that the individual might be at risk; this triggers outreach that offers different forms of support.

In addition to bolstering the reporting service, the company has started testing AI as a means of identifying patterns in posts that could signal a user at risk for suicide or self-injury. These posts will brought to the attention of the company’s Community Operations team, and will then reach out to the user with offers of support if they feel it is warranted. This program is experimental at this stage, and only being implemented in the U.S. If it works, this program could use smartphones as a means to proactively help individuals who are at risk.