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Facebook artificial intelligence spots suicidal users

Facebook Live

 

Facebook has begun using artificial intelligence to identify members that may be at risk of killing themselves.

The
social network has developed algorithms that spot warning signs in
users’ posts and the comments their friends leave in response.
After
confirmation by Facebook’s human review team, the company contacts
those thought to be at risk of self-harm to suggest ways they can seek
help.
A suicide helpline chief said the move was “not just helpful but critical”.
The tool is being tested only in the US at present.
Facebook postIt marks the first use of AI technology to review messages on the network since founder Mark Zuckerberg announced last month that he also hoped to use algorithms to identify posts by terrorists, among other concerning content.
Facebook
also announced new ways to tackle suicidal behaviour on its Facebook
Live broadcast tool and has partnered with several US mental health
organisations to let vulnerable users contact them via its Messenger
platform.
Facebook has offered advice to users thought to be at
risk of suicide for years, but until now it had relied on other users to
bring the matter to its attention by clicking on a post’s report
button.

Facebook

Image caption

US-based Facebook users can now contact a variety of suicide counsellors via Messenger

It has now developed pattern-recognition algorithms
to recognise if someone is struggling, by training them with examples of
the posts that have previously been flagged.
Talk of sadness and pain, for example, would be one signal.
Responses from friends with phrases such as “Are you OK?” or “I’m worried about you,” would be another.
Once a post has been identified, it is sent for rapid review to the network’s community operations team.
“We know that speed is critical when things are urgent,” Facebook product manager Vanessa Callison-Burch told the BBC.
The
director of the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline praised the
effort, but said he hoped Facebook would eventually do more than give
advice, by also contacting those that could help.

Image copyright
Facebook

Facebook suicide risk messageImage caption

Users judged to be at risk will see a message from Facebook advising them how to seek help

“It’s something that we have been discussing with Facebook,” said Dr John Draper.
“The more we can mobilise the support network of an individual in distress to help them, the more likely they are to get help.
“The question is how we can do that in a way that doesn’t feel invasive.
“I would say though that what they are now offering is a huge step forward.”
Ms
Callison-Burch acknowledged that contact from friends or family was
typically more effective than a message from Facebook, but added that it
would not always be appropriate for it to inform them.
“We’re
sensitive to privacy and I think we don’t always know the personal
dynamics between people and their friends in that way, so we’re trying
to do something that offers support and options,” she said.

Facebook Live

Image copyright
Facebook

Image caption

Facebook Live users who discuss killing themselves
will be given advice but will not have their stream interrupted

The latest effort to help Facebook Live users
follows the death of a 14-year-old-girl in Miami, who livestreamed her
suicide on the platform in January.
However, the company said it had already begun work on its new tools before the tragedy.
The
goal is to help at-risk users while they are broadcasting, rather than
wait until their completed video has been reviewed some time later.
Now,
when someone watching the stream clicks a menu option to declare they
are concerned, Facebook displays advice to the viewer about ways they
can support the broadcaster.
The stream is also flagged for
immediate review by Facebook’s own team, who then overlay a message with
their own suggestions if appropriate.

“Some might say we should cut off the stream of the
video the moment there is a hint of somebody talking about suicide,”
said Jennifer Guadagno, Facebook’s lead researcher on the project.
“But
what the experts emphasised was that cutting off the stream too early
would remove the opportunity for people to reach out and offer support.
“So,
this opens up the ability for friends and family to reach out to a
person in distress at the time they may really need it the most.”
The new system is being rolled out worldwide.
A
new option to contact a choice of crisis counsellor helplines via
Facebook’s Messenger tool, however, is limited to the US for now.
Facebook said it needed to check whether other organisations would be able to cope with demand before it expanded the facility.
“Their
ongoing and future efforts give me great hope for saving more lives
globally from the tragedy of suicide,” said Dr Dan Reiden executive
director of Save.org, which is involved in the initiative.
“The opportunity for prevention, even with Facebook Live, is better now than ever before.”

Facebook LiveIf you are depressed and need to ask for help, there’s advice on who to contact at BBC Advice.
Alternatively, call Samaritans on 116123 or Childline on 0800 1111.

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