Facebook has announced that its self-harm and suicide prevention tools are now available to users around the world, after previously only being offered to a small number of English-speaking communities.
The news comes as suicide rates in the US are reported to be at a 30-year high, with incidents of suicide and self-harm also increasing around the world.
This global launch will mean that features offering help and support to those contemplating suicide or self-harm, as well as the friends and family of those struggling, will be available to users in every country plus the 70-plus languages in which Facebook is available.
In an official statement released via Facebook, Antigone Davis, Global Head of Safety at the social network, and researcher Jennifer Guadagno, explain: “Today we're updating the resources we offer to people around the world who may be experiencing self-injury or suicidal thoughts, as well as the support we offer to their concerned friends and family members.
“Developed in collaboration with mental health organizations and with input from people who have personal experience with self-injury and suicide, these tools first launched in the US with the help of Forefront, Lifeline, and Save.org.”
The update, adds Facebook product designer Jasmine Probst, is a part of the network’s overall mission to help and connect people on a more personal level, and to promote compassionate action amongst users.
Discussing the self-harm and suicide prevention tools at a conference in London, Probst tells us: “There over 1.6 billion people on Facebook, and we can all watch out for the wellbeing of others.
“Once Facebook is made aware of a troubling post, we want to act as quickly as possible so that help and resources can be made available to that person.”
So what exactly do the tools involve?
If you see a worrying post from a friend, along with reaching out to them directly you’ll be able to anonymously report the post to Facebook, where it’ll be reviewed by a qualified support team working around the clock.
If the team considers the post to be a genuine suicide threat, the author of the content will be offered a series of options via a dedicated message screen, including access to support lines, reading materials and a prompt to reach out to their friends and family for help.
“We worked with organisations including Samaritans to develop these tools, and one of the first things they told us was how much connecting with people who care can help those who are struggling to cope – whether offline or online,” notes Julie de Bailliencourt, Facebook’s Safety Policy manager, EMEA.
But while the update has been praised for taking a more direct approach to the prevention of suicide and self-harm, which worryingly, is now thought to be on the rise among women in the UK, others have raised concerns about digital privacy.
Facebook is already embroiled in legal action both in Europe and America, after admitting to staging psychological experiments on users in 2014 - researchers tried to manipulate the emotions of users via newsfeed updates - and regularly faces accusations of ‘Big Brother’ behaviour.
“The company really has to walk a fine line here,” says Dr. Jennifer Stuber, associate professor at University of Washington and faculty director at US suicide prevention organisation Forefront.
“They don’t want to be perceived as ‘Big Brother-ish,’ because people are not expecting Facebook to be monitoring their posts.”
If you're struggling with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, or are concerned about a loved one, visit samaritans.org for help and advice.