Facebook has a suicide prevention that flags users that seem to be at high-risk of self-harm where the company notifies the police to intervene. But is this strategy interfering with the privacy of others as well as detecting accuracy in the signs? It is important for suicide prevention strategies to think more about the person and location dealing with the suicide attempts than about what an algorithm believes is the right thing to do.
By late 2018, this Facebook strategy seemed to be a great success in an algorithm finding the signs of suicide risks in its users and then contacting local authorities based on urgency. A recent report by The New York Times, however, said otherwise in that one out of four cases were successful in identifying an individual who posted a live stream of their suicide attempt and intervened in time. The other two cases were too late and the fourth case was a mistake when an elderly woman claimed that she was not suicidal.
One of the Facebook engineers who invented the algorithm, Dan Muriello, stated that Facebook is not trying to make a mental health diagnosis but to connect those who are suicidal with the help that they need. There are also many ethical concerns surrounding Facebook’s suicide prevention strategy such as the lack of informed consent in regards to intervention and targeting vulnerable people without clear protections. Facebook even claims that they do not track whether or not the interventions were successful in preventing suicide because of privacy concerns, which will turn the heads of those doubting what Facebook truly considers private.
It is important for Facebook to take the country into consideration when making these interventions such as in Singapore where you could spend a year in prison for a suicide attempt. In Europe, this type of algorithm is considered a privacy violation. If people are aware of this algorithm and how it works, Facebook users can have the potential to fool the system. A technology as powerful as this can lead to wondering what the technology is doing, how it is getting its results, who sees the results, and if it is causing more harm than good. It is important for human beings to be wiser than the technology they are using and for mental health professionals to use their knowledge in judging what is and is not a suicide attempt made online.
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