Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook’s AI could spot suicidal tendencies in users quicker than friends

  • Facebook announced on Tuesday that it is using artificial-intelligence technology to pinpoint users at risk of suicide.
  • At an event on Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he believes the AI tool can spot some users with suicidal tendencies even before their friends report it.
  • The tool is one of several humanitarian initiatives that Facebook has recently launched.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced that it’s rolling out an artificial-intelligence tool aimed at preventing suicide in its users.

The tool monitors posts, videos, and livestreams, and looks for signals from friends like “Are you OK?” and “Can I help?” Facebook’s community operations team then reviews the content, and contacts the user (and their friends) via Facebook Messenger with links to relevant pages, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line.

The AI component is a step beyond the platform’s existing suicide prevention efforts. Facebook already allows users to report friends who they think might be at risk.

But at Facebook’s annual Social Good Forum on Wednesday, CEO Mark Zuckerburg said AI could help spot suicidal tendencies even quicker. If the AI (or a friend) pinpoints a user in immediate danger of suicide, Facebook will flag local first responders – police, fire departments, or EMTs – who can aid the person on the ground.

“When you’re trying to keep people safe, speed is really important,” he said. “In the last month in the US, the [AI] tool has helped first responders reach out and help more than 100 people who needed that support quickly.”

The company is also working to improve the technology to avoid false positives before the community operation team reviews incidents. Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of product management, said at the Forum that Facebook is currently expanding this team as well. He added that, in recent months, the company has made it easier for the team to find contact information for the correct first responders.

“This is artificial intelligence that can immediately identify when someone might be expressing thoughts of suicide,” he said. “This is about speed … Every minute counts.”

Facebook is rolling out the suicide prevention tool globally except in the European Union, which has strict data-privacy laws. The tool is one of several humanitarian initiatives that Facebook has recently launched. On Wednesday, the company announced tools aimed at mentorship, fundraising, and increasing blood donation sign-ups.