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Facebook aims to help prevent suicide

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Published : Dec. 14, 2011 - 14:50

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MENLO PARK, California (AP) _ Facebook is making it easier for people who express suicidal thoughts on the social networking site to get help.

A program launching Tuesday enables users to instantly connect with a crisis counselor through Facebook's “chat” messaging system.

The service is the latest tool from Facebook aimed at improving safety on its site, which has more than 800 million users. Earlier this year, Facebook announced changes to how users report bullying, offensive content and fake profiles.

“One of the big goals here is to get the person in distress into the right help as soon as possible,” Fred Wolens, public policy manager at Facebook, told The Associated Press.

Nearly 100 Americans die by suicide every day, and 36,035 a year, according to U.S Surgeon General Regina Benjamin's office.

Google and Yahoo have long provided the phone number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as the first result when someone searches for “suicide” using their sites. Through email, Facebook also directed users to the hotline or encouraged friends to call law enforcement if they perceived someone was about to do harm.

The new service goes a step further by enabling an instant chat session that experts say can make all the difference with someone seeking help.

“The science shows that people experience reductions in suicidal thinking when there is quick intervention,” said Lidia Bernik, associate project director of Lifeline. “We've heard from many people who say they want to talk to someone but don't want to call. Instant message is perfect for that.”

Some crisis lines such as Lifeline have been criticized for alerting police without the caller or user knowing.

How the service works is if a friend spots a suicidal thought on someone's page, he can report it to Facebook by clicking a link next to the comment. Facebook then sends an email to the person who posted the suicidal comment encouraging them to call the hotline or click on a link to begin a confidential chat.

Facebook on its own doesn't troll the site for suicidal expressions, Wolens said. Logistically it would be far too difficult with so many users and so many comments that could be misinterpreted by a computer algorithm.

“The only people who will have a really good idea of what's going on is your friends, so we're encouraging them to speak up and giving them an easy and quick way to get help,” Wolens said.

There have been high-profile incidents of suicidal expressions on Facebook.

Last month, authorities in California said a man posted a suicide note on Facebook before he killed his wife and in-laws then himself.

In July, police in Pennsylvania said they believed they were able to help prevent a man's suicide after the man's friend in California alerted police about a distraught Facebook posting. Police met with the man, who was committed to a hospital.

The Lifeline currently responds to dozens of users on Facebook each day. Crisis center workers will be available 24 hours a day to respond to users selecting the chat option.

 

<한글 기사>

페이스북 자살방지프로그램 선보여

페이스북이 자살방지프로그램을 선보 였다고 미국 언론들이 13일(현지시간) 보도했다.

페이스북은 이날 자살을 시사하는 게시물을 올린 이용자들이 발견되면 페이스북 채팅창을 통해 곧바로 관련 전문 카운슬러와 연결될 수 있도록 하는 프로그램을 내놓았다.

한 이용자의 페이지를 방문한 '친구'가 자살을 암시하는 게시물을 발견한 뒤 이를 페이스북에 신고하면 페이스북은 곧바로 이메일을 통해 이 이용자에게 핫라인이 나 전문가와 채팅을 하도록 권장한다는 것이다.

페이스북의 공공정책 매니저인 프레드 울렌스는 "곤경에 처한 이용자들이 곧바로 올바른 도움을 받을 수 있게 하는 것이 이 프로그램의 목적"이라고 설명했다.

울렌스는 그러나 "가입자 수가 8억명에 달하기 때문에 자신들이 자살을 암시하는 게시물들을 일일이 확인할 수는 없다"면서 "개개인들의 상황은 주변 친구들이 잘 알 수 있기 때문에 이들을 통해 극단적인 상황을 막는 방법을 고안한 것"이라고 덧붙였다.

구글과 야후는 오랫동안 '자살(suicide)'이라는 용어를 검색할 때 전미자살방지 상담전화(NSPL)의 전화번호를 제공해왔다.

페이스북도 이메일을 통해 이용자들이 문제가 발생했을 때 곧바로 핫라인과 연결시켜주거나 주변친구들이 사법당국에 신고하는 것을 권장하도록 조치했으나 이번에 채팅창을 이용해 전문가와 연결시켜주는 방식을 추가로 설치하면서 관련 프로그램을 강화한 것이라고 현지 언론들은 전했다.

미국에서는 매년 3만6천명 정도, 즉 하루 평균 100명 정도가 스스로 목숨을 끊는 것으로 조사됐다.