In Brief
  • A new Facebook Live algorithm spots suicidal behavior in broadcasters and immediately offers them resources, such as the contact number of a helpline.
  • This system could save thousands of lives by offering at-risk users a viable alternative just when they need it the most.

Facebook has gradually grown from supposed social media fad to an everyday essential that has amassed a monthly base of 1.86 million users. The ever-scaling operation frequently pushes out new features to keep users interested, and at the moment, its flagship project is Facebook Live, a service that lets users broadcast real-time videos to their followers. While it has found favor with professionals and laymen alike, it has also become an unfortunate platform for live suicides.

*4* Facebook’s AI Software Can Identify At-Risk Users for Help
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Noting that live suicides had occurred on similar platforms before, Facebook has been working to develop a pattern-recognizing algorithm that could check for signs even before the tragic incident occurred.

Now, when suicide-like behavior is detected, Facebook will provide the at-risk user with resources that range from the ability to contact a friend or helpline to a few potentially helpful tips for dealing with depression without halting their stream. On the other end, viewers can flag broadcasts that they think demonstrate at-risk behavior while also receiving guidance from Facebook on how to proceed.

While the system is rolling out worldwide, the option of contacting a crisis counselor helpline via Facebook Messenger will be available in the U.S. only.

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Image Credit: Facebook

Skeptics may argue that a message from Facebook might not be as effective as immediately involving a friend. However, Vanessa Callison-Burch, a Facebook product manager, told BBC that the social media company is hoping to avoid invading anyone’s privacy or tampering with personal dynamics between friends. They acknowledge how critical a fast response time is, so as soon as the system identifies an at-risk user, a community operation’s team rapidly reviews the case.

The U.S. alone averages one suicide every 13 minutes, and it is the country’s tenth leading cause of death. While Facebook’s system is still new, it is reassuring to see that the social media company is dedicated to protecting its users from adding to this troubling statistic.