Facebook Begins Using Artificial Intelligence to Detect Suicidal Users

Facebook Begins Using Artificial Intelligence to Detect Suicidal Users

Major social media websites, such as Facebook, are beginning to use artificial intelligence to help prevent suicide among its users. [1] The company recognized that suicide is the leading cause of death for 15-29 year olds and said that “Facebook is in a unique position — through friendships on the site — to help connect a person in distress with people who can support them." [1] Currently, Facebook relies on a manual reporting system to detect potential suicidal comments, where friends click a button to inform Facebook about concerns. [2] However, new algorithms using artificial intelligence (AI) are being used to automatically detect such comments. [2]

The algorithm Facebook will employ has been designed to spot status updates and comments that may indicate someone was at risk of committing suicide, such as comments about the users being sad or in pain. [2] It can also detect comments by friends that express concern or worry about the user. [2] Upon detection, the software sends a report to a real person, who can then contact the user with help and information about available resources. [2] Facebook product manager Vanessa Callison-Burch hopes that the use of AI will allow to user to obtain help faster, saying  that “speed is critical when things are urgent." [1]  

Since Facebook Live was introduced last year, the recording and sharing of suicide videos through the live streaming technology has become increasingly common. [3] As a result, Facebook has already started using AI to identify potential suicidal users in live video streams. [3] As of March, the company said that the updated tools would allow users watching a live video to report the video and reach out to the user directly. [3] The suicide prevention tools that exist for Facebook posts will be expanded to Facebook live and its Messenger service. [3]

The director of the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Dr. John Draper, praised Facebook’s advances, but also said he hopes Facebook would do more than just give advice, and instead also be able to contact friends and family that could help. [4] He is also noted how important it is to precede in a noninvasive way that ensures the user doesn’t feel personally attacked or judged. [4] However, despite his critiques, Draper applauded Facebook and described the new AI as “a huge step forward.” [4]

The creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, also described the other uses of AI for Facebook. Zuckerberg explained that his company is exploring ways to detect the difference between news stories about terrorism and actual terrorist propaganda so Facebook can remove any form of recruitment for terrorist organizations. [1]

Resources

  1. Mills, Curt. "Facebook Begins Using AI to Thwart Suicide." UsNews.com. US & World Report News, 1 Mar. 2017. Web. https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2017-03-01/facebook-using-artificial-intelligence-to-combat-suicide

  2. "Facebook Employs Artificial Intelligence to Identify Warning Signs of Suicide." Mirror.co.uk. The Mirror, 3 Mar. 2017. Web. http://www.mirror.co.uk/tech/facebook-employs-artificial-intelligence-identify-9956140

  3. "Facebook Turns to Artificial Intelligence to Tackle Suicides." Reuters.com. Reuters, 1 Mar. 2017. Web. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-features-idUSKBN1684JQ

  4. Kellion, Leo. "Facebook Artificial Intelligence Spots Suicidal Users." BBC.com. BBC News, 1 Mar. 2017. Web. http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-39126027

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