A while back I wrote a post about how Twitter is being used to provide emotional support. Now a couple of reports are suggesting that Facebook is trying to mine its vast stores of data to try to help those at risk of suicide. Will this help? And does it distract from the very real work of charities using this mightiest of social networks to connect with vulnerable people?
We’re used to Facebook studying our every move to try and bring us more things we might like, more ads we might be interested in and more connections we might want to make. So far, so consumer-age data mining. But an interview released this week with Dan Reidenberg from US-based charity, SAVE, suggests that FB is now turning some of this data to researchers with a more overtly benevolent purpose: identifying people who may be at risk of suicide, before it’s too late. (Thanks to All Facebook for this link).
While there seems to have been no official response from Facebook itself to this story, another report indicates that academic researchers are preparing to use FB’s data mine to try and understand and anticipate patterns of behaviour.
These research projects may or may not be taking the right approach, and may or may not yield any useful information. In the meantime, however, a number of charities are using Facebook’s straight-forward tools to support conversation and connections to help those people who are experiencing emotional distress.
The Beat Bullying FB page shows interactions with young people, parents, teachers and others. Using topical news stories and soap plotlines as hooks for conversations, the charity is allowing people to talk about their own views and experiences of bullying, discuss causes and coping strategies, and provide support to each other.
This Australian charity provides supports to those left behind when loved ones take their own lives. Its website lets people voice their distress and despair, and connect with others who have experienced similar loss. By enabling these connections, the charity is delivering accessible support that can be both relatively anonymised and personal.
Is your charity using Facebook to support people at risk of suicide? Please let us know how you are helping.