Facebook develops new tool aimed to prevent suicide

by | Mar 13, 2015 | Life

Christina McAllister
Life Reporter

On February 25, Facebook announced it was updating tools that would provide more resources to users struggling with suicidal thoughts.

According to a blog post by Facebook Product Manager Rob Boyle and Facebook Community Operations Safety Specialist Nicole Staubli, this update would allow friends to report posts they deemed distressful.

Once a user’s post is reported, a team working 24/7 reviews the post and prioritizes it based on its sense of urgency, said the blog post.

The next time that user logs onto their account they will receive a message that says “A friend thinks you might be going through something difficult and asked us to look at your recent post.”

The user is obliged to answer the question “What would you like to do?” whereupon Facebook provides a list of options such as “Talk to someone” or “Get tips and support.”

Andrew Thomson, a Humber student in the Sports Management Program, said he would use this new application if he saw distressing posts by a Facebook friend that he wasn’t close with.

“I would prefer to talk to them first,” he said, “but some friends on Facebook aren’t necessarily that close to you that you would bring it up in conversation, so this is an anonymous way to do it.

“As long as it’s not too invasive and it’s an optional thing that you can use, it could be helpful,” Thomson said.

If one or two people benefit from this application, then it has done its job, he said.

According to Humber College counselor Liz Sokol, people who have suicidal thoughts seldom want to take their own life.

People having suicidal thoughts inadvertently want to reach out to others, through any means of communication, because there’s a part of them that wants to keep going, she said.

Even people who don’t want to communicate their thoughts often do, because they don’t want to die, said Sokol.

Cryptic messages on Facebook may not seem to be a cause for concern but this is not the case, said Sokol.

All threats of self-harm are serious, no matter if they are just a cry for attention, she said.

According to Sokol, the policy at Humber is to take every suicidal gesture seriously.

As for the new Facebook tool, Sokol said that while face-to-face communication is preferred to online interactions, social media is here to stay and any outlet is better than none.

“Anything that educates people around suicide prevention is good,” she said. “If we talked about it, it would be so much easier to get help.”