Facebook changes how it offers help to users at risk of suicide
Shift came after discussions with Data Protection Commissioner
The new method of reaching out to at-risk users will be done solely through Facebook, providing a “checkpoint” the next time the profile logs in
Facebook has changed how it offers help to users who may be at risk of suicide, abandoning a previous system where email addresses were passed to support organisations.
The social network made the changes to its policy after discussions with the Data Protection commissioner in Dublin. It emerged earlier this year that an initiative between Facebook and charities such as the Samaritans was under discussion with watchdogs over concerns that it may have been breaching data protection law.
The new method of reaching out to at-risk users will be done solely through Facebook, providing a “checkpoint” the next time the profile logs in.
“We try to ensure that the person sees our message, by interrupting their Facebook session,” Facebook’s policy director for the UK and Ireland Simon Milner said.
“If they don’t need help, it will be easy for them to click through our message and continue to use Facebook as before. This interaction will be entirely private between the user and Facebook.”
The changes have already gone live on the site.
Under the previous measures, Facebook “friends” concerned about content on a profile could report the matter directly to the social network. The profiles were reviewed by a specialist team within Facebook, and an email was sent to the profile owner, alerting them of the report. If the risk was determined to be real, users were put in touch with suicide prevention charities via email.
However, Facebook was providing private email addresses to charities such as the Samaritans to allow them to make contact. Under data protection laws in Ireland, which apply to Facebook, companies are prohibited from passing on personal information to third parties, including charities, without permission.
Some people used the social network to broadcast a “cry for help”, which could lead friends to report the matter to Facebook, he said.
Facebook liaises with more than 20 suicide prevention charities, including the Samaritans and Lifeline. It began working with the charities to provide support to users after a cases where Facebook users had posted about suicidal intentions on the site. In 2010, Simone Back told friends through Facebook that she planned to take an overdose; however, the alarm wasn’t raised until the next day and Ms Back died in hospital.
The Data Protection Commissioner said Facebook had discussed proposals for its updated suicide prevention process with regulators last month, and that it understood that the new measures did not involve sharing data with a third party or any of the user’s friends.