Facebook and Google have both taken steps to identify and help people who may have suicidal tendencies. But a group of students in Hong Kong is in talks with both companies to develop even more advanced ways to help people, particularly children that are in need.
According to an official report shared by professor Paul Yip Sui-Fai, the head of the student group, 70% of young Hong-Kongers that committed suicide showed various warning signs.
Responding to Suicide Warning Signs
The student group’s goal is to work with Google and Facebook to identify and flag these warning signs in real-time to get people the help they need.
“We have been discussing with Google and Facebook how to respond actively when some people show warning signs online and how to identify this group of people as soon as possible,” Yip said.“These signs may not just be a phone call, but also WhatsApp messages, emojis and Facebook posts.”
The tools that Facebook and Google offer at the moment are mainly reactive. Facebook has a feature that allows friends to flag concerning posts. Facebook then reaches out to the people with concerning behavior with a list of ways for them to seek help. Google shows search results about suicide prevention when users search for phrases like “ways to commit suicide.”
Creating a Suicide Early Warning System
But the student group thinks that these companies can use their massive amounts of user data to develop an early warning system of sorts. They believe that by analyzing patterns of behavior, these companies can automatically detect suicidal cases and send notifications to parents, schools, or to the individuals themselves.
The committee was created last year after a worrying spike in youth suicides in Hong Kong. At one point, 7 kids committed suicide over a 10 day period. Now that back-to-school season is underway, the issue has been brought back to public attention.
The Connection Between School Pressure and Suicide
Dr. Liu Kwong-sun, a Hong Kong Suicide Prevention researcher found that many clinical cases showed signs of suicidal intentions at all levels of the education system. “This shows that the society-wide expectation of students is very high, much higher than what students can afford,” Liu said. “We did not have this environmental pressure in the last generation.
A possible solution? Schools should focus less on academic performance and more on young people’s emotional education, to encourage perseverance, responsibility and confidence, according to Dr. Liu.