In Screening for Suicide Risk, Facebook Takes On Tricky Public Health Role


From The New York Times: “Facebook’s rise as a global arbiter of mental distress puts the social network in a tricky position at a time when it is under investigation for privacy lapses by regulators in the United States, Canada and the European Union — as well as facing heightened scrutiny for failing to respond quickly to election interference and ethnic hatred campaigns on its site. Even as Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has apologized for improper harvesting of user data, the company grappled last month with fresh revelations about special data-sharing deals with tech companies.

The anti-suicide campaign gives Facebook an opportunity to frame its work as a good news story. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 29 worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Some mental health experts and police officials said Facebook had aided officers in locating and stopping people who were clearly about to harm themselves.

Facebook has computer algorithms that scan the posts, comments and videos of users in the United States and other countries for indications of immediate suicide risk. When a post is flagged, by the technology or a concerned user, it moves to human reviewers at the company, who are empowered to call local law enforcement.

‘In the last year, we’ve helped first responders quickly reach around 3,500 people globally who needed help,’ Mr. Zuckerberg wrote in a November post about the efforts.

But other mental health experts said Facebook’s calls to the police could also cause harm — such as unintentionally precipitating suicide, compelling nonsuicidal people to undergo psychiatric evaluations, or prompting arrests or shootings.

And, they said, it is unclear whether the company’s approach is accurate, effective or safe. Facebook said that, for privacy reasons, it did not track the outcomes of its calls to the police. And it has not disclosed exactly how its reviewers decide whether to call emergency responders. Facebook, critics said, has assumed the authority of a public health agency while protecting its process as if it were a corporate secret.”

Article →


  1. I agree, “Facebook’s suicide risk scoring software, along with its calls to the police that may lead to mandatory psychiatric evaluations, constitutes the practice of medicine.” And let’s be real, all of us here know the psychiatrists ALWAYS find a “diagnosis”/stigmatization.

    And how lovely, “There is no way of opting out, short of not posting on, or deleting, your Facebook account.”

    Perhaps it’s time to delete my Facebook account? Although I’ve never been big on posting or reading Facebook anyway, it strikes me as too voyeuristic. But this is downright intrusive, and creepy.

    Report comment

  2. There is an ocean between suicidal ideation and actual suicide. Since the psychiatric hospital increases the risk of suicide, Facebook has certainly contributed to many suicides by denouncing people to the police.

    Facebook is a repugnant spy in the service of the American state and political censorship. The New York Times is no better: it is a lackey who peddles all the gossip of the state and congratulates Facebook for its policy of surveillance and censorship.

    Report comment

  3. I think the first post says it perfectly. I was thinking the same thing. I need to learn to write like that. I was also going to say Facebook is practicing psychology without a licence.

    Individual states each adopt their own licensing requirements and penalties, but all states have laws which punish practicing without a license.

    Any person who practices or offers or attempts to practice as a psychologist, social worker, marriage and family therapist, licensed professional counselor, psychotherapist, or addiction counselor without an active license, registration, or certification issued under this article commits a class 2 misdemeanor and shall be punished as provided in section 18-1.3-501, C.R.S., for the first offense. Any person who commits a second or any subsequent offense commits a class 6 felony and shall be punished as provided in section 18-1.3-401, C.R.S.

    Report comment

  4. “‘In the last year, we’ve helped first responders quickly reach around 3,500 people globally who needed help,’ Mr. Zuckerberg wrote”

    Should Mr. Zuckerberg ever decide life doesn’t make sense for him anymore, will he get help too, or will he insist he has the right to end it? Obviously, he is unwilling to leave that decision to users of his platform when it is about their lives.

    Report comment

  5. What is going on with Facebook and it’s targeting? It seems as if it’s one hand has no idea what the other hand is doing.
    Before Facebook engaged as an internet community it should have looked into ethical and psychological issues that would be possibly harmful. The Hippocratic Oath of First Do No Harm is relevant here.
    This is certainly bordering on a problem that was created through a new technology that NO ONE was prepared for and it seems no type of oversight in any way , shape or form.

    Report comment

  6. Facebook does not exist as a public service. It is a data collection and advertising revenue generation company that functions solely to collect and aggregate data for sale to the highest bidder. They track you around the internet (as many websites do) in order to gain as many data points about your life and behavior as possible so as to extract as many dollars from as many consumers as they possibly can.

    Once you realize that Facebook (and other social media, and in fact most information disseminating sources such as tv and radio) exist not to give you relevant information or help you keep in touch with others, but in order to use you for maximum profit, when you realize what a scam it all is, it’s easier to walk away.

    I don’t see any difference between people like Martin Skrelli and Mark Zuckerberg. I think they are both crooks.

    Report comment