Facebook today launches a new tool in New Zealand which allows users who are worried about the mental wellbeing of a friend to report their concerns and offer help.
Internet safety watchdogs say the move puts pressure on other social media giants to create similar programmes.

Facebook’s Suicide Prevention tool allows users to report a friend’s post and start a chain of options to send that person help, get advice on how to talk to them or get a special team to review the post.

The tool will catch up New Zealand’s 2.4 million users with the US, Britain and Australia, where the feature has already been introduced.

Facebook’s director of policy for Australia and New Zealand, Mia Garlick, said: “Happily it’s a sparingly used product, but it’s a really important product because it’s such an important moment in time.”

Mrs Garlick said Facebook consulted with suicide survivors and prevention groups overseas and in New Zealand to create a system people were likely to respond to.

“We’ve tried to make sure the flow and the experience is as empathetic as possible and that it resonates with people even if they’re going through a difficult time.”

Part of the tool is suggested messages which people can send their friends to either ask for help or offer support.

For those looking to reach out, Facebook offers the text: “Hi [friend], I’m having a tough time at the moment, and I’m finding it really hard to talk with anyone. Please message me back.”

Users can write their own message, but Mrs Garlick said research showed a blank screen could be too daunting.

The tool also offers people seeking help the chance to “take a deep breath” before moving on to some tips like going outside, relaxing or doing something creative.

“In a product technology design sense, you try to have as few click-throughs as possible to get from point A to point B. But what we’ve discovered through a difficult time, they prefer more options and they prefer more emotion-rich language because it resonates with how they’re feeling.”

NetSafe has welcomed the tool. The group’s executive director, Martin Cocker, said because it was a community-driven tool it was only as effective as someone’s friend group. But he believed Facebook had found a good middle-ground for being responsible for behaviour on its site.

Because there was no limit on how many times someone could be reported, Mr Crocker hoped it wouldn’t be used against Facebook users.

“If someone uses those tools to bully someone else, then it’s offensive on two fronts: those tools are there for a very serious purpose to help people in a difficult place and then it’s bullying which is very unnecessary in the first place.”

Patrick Walsh, chairman of the Online Safety Advisory Group, said the tool was a step in the right direction and hoped other social media followed Facebook’s lead and created their own tools.

Instagram, owned by Facebook, can send messages to users searching hashtags deemed “at risk” while Twitter has a self-harm and suicide alert feature on its help page and SnapChat has a list of resources on its safety page. None offers a user-prompted alert system.

Source: The New Zealand Herald

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