- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Facebook will begin using artificial intelligence and pattern recognition technology in an effort to automatically identify users likely to commit suicide, the company said Wednesday.

The social network has expanded its decade-old suicide prevention tools by making it easier for users — both actual and automated — to flag account holders at risk of self-harm, Facebook said in a Wednesday press release.

In addition to integrating its current suicide prevention tools across its chat and live-streaming platforms — Messenger and Facebook Live, respectively — the announcement said the social network is experimenting with artificial intelligence and its potential to identify users likely to attempt suicide.

“Based on feedback from experts, we are testing a streamlined reporting process using pattern recognition in posts previously reported for suicide,” the announcement said. “This artificial intelligence approach will make the option to report a post about ‘suicide or self injury’ more prominent for potentially concerning posts like these.”

The announcement, penned by Facebook product manager Vanessa Callison-Burch, researcher Jennifer Guadagno and Antigone Davis, the company’s head of Global Safety, said the company is testing pattern recognition to identify posts as “very likely to include thoughts of suicide.”

“Our Community Operations team will review these posts and, if appropriate, provide resources to the person who posted the content, even if someone on Facebook has not reported it yet,” the announcement said.

Suicide claims an average of one life every 40 seconds, according to Facebook, making it the second-leading cause of death among individuals ages 15 through 29. The social network boasted 1.86 billion monthly active users as of the end of 2016, roughly a quarter of which are under the age of 25.

“Facebook is in a unique position — through friendships on the site — to help connect a person in distress with people who can support them,” the announcement said. “It’s part of our ongoing effort to help build a safe community on and off Facebook.”

Artificial intelligence and pattern recognition technology will only be used on a limited basis in the U.S. for now, Facebook said. Elsewhere, however, users should expect to see integrated suicide prevention tools while using both Facebook Live and Messenger beginning with Wednesday’s roll-out, according to the announcement.

Facebook Live platform was initially introduced to celebrity users in August 2015 before the service was broadened to the rest of its billion-plus account holders the following April. At least three Facebook users have broadcast their suicides using the live-streaming service since the start of 2017, including a 14-year-old girl who allegedly took her own life in January at the end of a two-hour broadcast, Variety reported this week.

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