Facebook may introduce self-harm prevention tool to Hong Kong

Facebook may introduce self-harm prevention tool to Hong Kong

Sometimes our friends post things on Facebook that leaves us feeling uneasy about their well-being. There may be something we can do about it in the future

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Facebook’s suicide prevention tools (pictured here) will allow concerned users to report the status of friends they are worried about.
Photo: AFP

New Facebook tools to help people at risk of self-harm could soon come to Hong Kong, a city with one of the highest usages of the social media site per capita.

Hong Kong University Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention director Paul Yip said he had been in discussions with Facebook to bring the service to the city.

“We have talked to Facebook before. They said they’re going to launch it in Taiwan and they’d like to see how it goes there before they launch it here,” he said.

Hong Kong’s suicide rate remains above average, with more than one person in every 10,000 expected to take their own life in a standard year.

The city has a higher suicide rate than Australia, where Facebook’s new tools were launched on December 3. The service started in Taiwan in September this year.

Under the new system, if a relative or friend were concerned about a user’s post, they could report it to Facebook where it would then be checked by a 24-hour team.

In Australia, Facebook has partnered with BeyondBlue, a large-scale national suicide prevention group, to provide support to users and better targets its tools.

Serious posts in which a person threatened self-harm or suicide would be prioritised, according to Facebook, with the users being sent resources to help them through notifications.

Yip said the new tools were useful in helping to prevent suicide, particularly among younger people who frequently used social media.

“I think it would not be a substitute for everything but certainly it would supplement or complement [other suicide prevention tools],” he said.

Although he didn’t know when Facebook would be rolling out the tools locally, Yip said the city was “on their radar”. “They’re just not sure when they’re going to roll it out yet,” he said.

Yip said he and the centre had worked with Facebook to analyse the statuses of suicide victims to determine key words or sentiments common to people at risk.

Zareen Chiba, a medical student at the University of Hong Kong and a former contributor to Young Post’s Brain Game and Top 10 columns, said that the suicide prevention tools were useful for picking up the signs and intervening, but she suggested that more focus should be put on mental health first aid.

“I think the new Facebook tools may help in providing an option for action, but cannot ensure that the person suffering will take action. I believe Mental Health First Aid which was pioneered in Australia is the best tool, because it gives tools for detection and counselling for mental health conditions to target people around you. Those trained mental health first aiders are a better first-responding tool for detecting family or friends’ mental problems. It’s more useful to prevent people from self-harm.

A suicide prevention group responded to a Young Post inquiry saying it was important to pick up the telltale signs and intervene. “Suicide can often be prevented by timely and proper invention. It’s encouraging that Facebook is recognising the importance of such intervention and bridging that gap,” said Billy Leung, the Samaritans’ Fundraising and Communications Officer.

A spokeswoman for Facebook Asia Pacific said the company had nothing to share on its possible local efforts at this point.

“As outlined in the launch blog post, we are working to improve our tools for those outside the US,” she said.

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