Versions of the tool are already available in the U.S. and Australia and offer advice, resources and emotional support for those who need it. Developed with help from the Samaritans, it provides a “safe space” for anyone who is contemplating suicide and provides support for their friends and family.
According to Facebook, 6,708 people in the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland died from suicide in 2013. That’s 18 people every single day.
Julie de Bailliencourt, EMEA Safety Policy Manager at Facebook, told BBC Newsbeat, “We have a really strong sense of responsibility towards the safety of people who are on our platform. We felt that while we’ve been working with the Samaritans for a number of years, we wanted to take this partnership to a whole new level.”
Facebook users can flag up posts they find worrying in a straightforward way. In the case of explicit threats of suicide, the advice is to call emergency services without delay. Otherwise, users are asked to report troubling content to a team who work 24/7 reviewing posts and taking appropriate action.
Cases are prioritised, and help options are sent to the people Facebook think are struggling to cope. People are encouraged to connect with a volunteer at the Samaritans and asked if they want to connect with a friend.
This could be a positive way to help those who simply don’t know how to ask for it, but of course, this is the Internet, and bullying is rife. Recent research to coincide with Safer Internet Day revealed that four in five young Brits have witnessed some form of targeted online hate. Is there a danger that people could abuse the tool to bully people who aren’t suicidal by continually reporting posts?
“I think people using reporting tools are responsible, they know this is a serious case and not to overabuse these areas,” said de Bailliencourt. “We haven’t noticed this. The language we’re using is quite empathetic — it’s saying, hey, someone’s worried about you, and here are things we think may be useful.”
“When people are beginning to have suicidal thoughts, it’s a lonely place to be,” said Ruth Sutherland, CEO of Samaritans. “They sometimes put out subtle things like ‘I don’t think I can face tomorrow’ or ‘it’s all feeling a bit black’ or ‘I’m feeling useless.’ These are opportunities not to be missed. One of the worst things about being bereaved by suicide is people’s feeling that there were missed opportunities.”