Tech giants like Facebook must do more to protect young people from pro-suicide content, the government said this week, as it launched a new cross-government suicide prevention plan and called on tech firms to act as a force for good.
Health minister Jackie Doyle-Price this week urged social media giants to do more to block access to content that could encourage self-harm and suicide, as part of a government and industry effort to cut the number of UK suicide deaths by 10% by 2020.
In the cross-government suicide prevention workplan, Doyle-Price – given responsibility for suicide prevention last October – said online giants should do more to block access to material that explains how to self-harm or take your own life.
Despite a recent decline, there were still 5,800 suicides last year in England, equating to 16 deaths each day. Men are three times more likely to die by suicide and it is the leading cause of death in UK men under 50.
Doyle-Price said social media giants needed to do more to prevent publication on their platforms of harmful material and urged tech to be “a force for good”. The minister also offered support to tech innovations deploying artificial intelligence to pick up those at high risk of suicide.
Ai for good innovators say people’s digital footprints can offer invaluable clues about their behaviour, including mental health and risk of harm, with artificial intelligence offering the capacity to process that data and support ways forward.
Startups focussing on ways to use Ai and machine learning to identify and help those who need help most include young people’s mental health platform TalkLife, (which picked up the people’s choice award at 2018’s DigitalAgenda Impact Awards). Other initiatives include self-harm advice platform Calm Harm.
Specialist charities have also emerged to respond to the suicide challenge, including CALM – the Campaign Against Living Miserably – set up to support those bereaved by male suicide in particular and help bring the suicide rate down among men.
Launching the suicide reduction work plan, Doyle-Price said: “As a society we need to do everything we can to support vulnerable and at-risk people, as well as those in crisis, and give them the help they desperately need.”
Samaritans welcomed the publication of the plan, which gives the charity a specific role to address “potentially harmful suicidal content online, and improve online safety for children and young people”. Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, policy officer said Harriet Edwards said Ai could be used to identify those at risk of suicide and help save lives. “We really need to know what the factors are that are increasing people’s risk and we can put plans in place to tackle that,” she said.
The government’s internet safety strategy green paper, published in 2017, focussed attention on age verification to protect young people. A white paper had been expected before the end of 2018 but has not yet been published.