Researchers Using Facebook Data To Determine Signs of Suicide

Facebook is releasing its data to suicide prevention nonprofit, SAVE.org, in hopes of preventing future tragedies. The collaboration resulted from the recent suicide of internet activist, Aaron Schwartz.

About 100 deaths from suicide occur each day in America. Young adults as especially at risk – suicide is the third leading cause of death among those between the ages of 15-24. Likewise, Facebook’s median user age is 22, making the social network a rich source for studies of social behaviors leading up to suicide.

Facebook is not alone in its humanitarian efforts to prevent suicide. Using Google’s search engine to look up information regarding suicide will bring up the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Likewise, Twitter’s public data is available to any researchers wishing to mine information – it’s already being used to track the flu.

Facebook users may not like this latest decision from the social media giant – most users consider Facebook’s privacy policy a major point of contention. Facebook has already asked a federal court to dismiss a $15 billion lawsuit from its users who disapprove of the company’s ubiquitous tracking of activities on other internet sites. Facebook can leverage its powerful role, but it must balance its privacy policy with more transparency if it wishes to continue with its good deeds.

Facebook’s role in suicide prevention might be minor, but if it can potentially save a life will users be so quick to judge? Earlier this year, rapper Freddy E eerily tweeted his final moments prior to taking his own life. As someone who have witnessed a friend on Facebook days prior to a suicide, I can say with certainty that there were major signs of depression – how we use that knowledge should be a public discussion and Facebook is starting with good intentions. This is not the first time Facebook has addressed suicide prevention, and it will not be the last.

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