As the biggest social network in the world, Facebook collects an unprecedented amount of information on its more than 1.39 billion-strong active user base. While that’s usually a cause for concern, it can also be a force for good. That was the case this week when Facebook announced a partnership with Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention, an organization affiliated with the University of Washington.
Through its relationship with Forefront, Facebook has improved its tools for users to report suicidal posts on the site. If a user sees a post that they feel may indicate the author is considering suicide, they can report the post to Facebook via a dropdown menu. That will then trigger a series of windows, including a link that allows the person who reported the post to reach out via a message to their potentially suicidal friend. They can also use the feature to reach out to another Facebook friend or contact trained mental health professionals.
Facebook will also review every reported post and present the author with “positive options,” including suggestions for getting help and videos that feature real-life accounts of people struggling with suicidal thoughts.
“In the world of suicide prevention, we know that being connected is a protective factor,” said Jennifer Stuber, a professor at the University of Washington. “People are on Facebook 24/7, so there’s an opportunity to actually connect a suicidal person with someone they have a relationship with. Facebook is extremely proactive in what they’re trying to do. ”
Facebook might have Big Brother tendencies from time to time, but sometimes that kind of all-seeing scope can make a critical difference in the lives of the site’s users.