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12 March, 2017 10:35:50 AM
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Can social networking sites check suicidal tendencies?

Independent Online / The Times of India
Can social networking sites check suicidal tendencies?

How much is too much while trying to stop a person determined to commit suicide?
This question has been debated upon since social network site, Facebook, introduced an algorithm on March 1 to scan posts of users and their friends for tell-tale signs of suicidal thoughts (the algorithm is in use only in the United States at present). The company's algorithm is being trained to intervene during live video streams by offering assistance and resources to the person.

Mumbai psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty said, "At first, it may seem intrusive but it should be appreciated that the social network site is acting as a mental health soldier." The doctor said while mental health professionals wait for patients to come to them, social networks seem to be proactively helping out patients who display suicidal tendencies.

"It would be unethical for a doctor or other mental health professionals to be intrusive, but not so for a mental health soldier,'' explained Dr Shetty. "Public health mechanism gets active when we are tackling infectious diseases such as dengue, but we seem to be doing little in terms of public health interventions for suicides even though it claims more lives than traffic accidents," he added.

Suicide is one of the biggest public health problems, with over 300 Indians committing suicide every day.
On Friday, medical journal Lancet in a special editorial said, "It is important to look past our discomfort and see the good that can be done and the opportunities to provide help, as well as to appreciate the profound effect of the internet revolution on health care and society.'' The edit underlined that ``we are all living through the first generation to undergo such a profound change in interconnectedness and information accessibility, and, in terms of understanding opportunities and pitfalls, finding ourselves running just to keep up.''

The article mentioned quoted US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline director John Draper as saying: "The more we can mobilise the support network of an individual in distress to help them, the more likely they are to get help. The question is how we can do that in a way that doesn't feel invasive. I would say though that what they are now offering is a huge step forward."

As the service is still new, there is little in terms of outcry or reaction. As the Lancet article pointed out: "Can an impersonal machine intervention prevent alienation rather than cause it? Will the algorithm stumble into the sort of embarrassing mistakes that make easy pickings for the press? Most importantly of all, will these interventions make any noticeable difference?'' However, in the final analysis, it said that efforts like these should not supplant public health efforts on suicide prevention, but can work alongside them.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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