Today,the world’s largest social media network,Facebook,will expand its pattern recognition software to other countries after successful tests in the U.S. to detect users with suicidal intent.Facebook began testing the software in the United States, when the company started scanning the text of Facebook posts and comments for all the phrases that could be signals of an impending suicide. Facebook has not disclosed many technical details of the program, but the company said its software searches for certain phrases that could be clues for users, such as the questions “Are you ok?” and “Can I help?”
If the software detects a potential suicide, it alerts a team of Facebook workers who specialize in handling such reports in surrounding. The system suggests resources to the user or to friends of the person such as a telephone help line. Facebook workers sometimes call local authorities to intervene.
Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of product management, said the company was beginning to roll out the software outside the U.S because the tests have been successful.He said during the past month first responder checked on people more than 100 times after Facebook software detected suicidal intent.Fb said it tries to have specialist employees available at any hour to call authorities in local language.Rosen said “Speed really matters. We have to get help to people in real time,”.
Last year, when Facebook launched live video broadcasting, videos proliferated of violent acts including suicides, presenting a threat to the company’s image. In May Facebook said it would hire 3,000 more people to monitor videos and other content on fb.
Rosen did not name the countries where Fb was deploying the software, but he said it would eventually be used worldwide except in the European Union due to sensitivities.Other technology firms also try to prevent suicides. Google’s search engine displays the phone number for a suicide hot line in response to certain searches.
Facebook knows lots about its 2.1 billion users – data that it uses for targeted advertising – but in general the company has not been known previously to systematically scan the conversations for patterns of a harmful behavior.One exception is its efforts to spot suspicious conversations between children and adult sexual predators. Fb sometimes contacts authorities when its automated screens pick up inappropriate language.But it may be more difficult for technology firms to justify scanning conversations in other situations, said Ryan Calo, a University of Washington law professor who writes about all the technology.“Once you open the door, you might wonder what other kinds of things we would be looking for,” Calo said.
Rosen declined to say if Facebook was considering a pattern recognition software in other areas.