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Can Facebook Posts Help Determine Suicide Risk?


Can posts on Facebook and other social networks, and text messages, be used to help determine if there is a risk of suicide? Facebook, Patterns and Predictions, and the Veterans Education and Research Association of Northern New England aim to find out with their collaboration on The Durkheim Project.

The Durkheim Project will study an anonymous population of U.S. veterans who opt in to share their social media and mobile phone data, and participants can choose to opt in or opt out at any time from one or all of the social networks being monitored.

Data from social networks including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as from text messages, will be stored on Dartmouth University’s online database for the Geisel School of Medicine, and those data will be safeguarded by U.S. Department of Health & Human Services standards of medical privacy.

The Durkheim Project Principal Investigator Chris Poulin said:

Ensuring data security and confidentiality is essential for building and maintaining trust with our study participants.

Geisel School of Medicine Instructor and The Durkheim Project Co-Investigator Paul Thompson added:

We have created a secure data-storage environment behind the medical school’s IT firewall to ensure participant privacy — both during this study phase and for any future interventions that may be indicated by the insights generated here.

The goal is to eventually provide clinicians with real-time assessments of psychological risk factors for suicide and other destructive behaviors.

The initiative works by having participants download and install applications for Facebook, iPhone, and Android that automatically upload relevant content into an integrated medical database, where it will be updated and analyzed by artificial intelligence systems.

Predictive analytics will then be used to enable real-time monitoring of text content and behavioral patterns statistically correlated with tendencies for harmful behaviors, such as suicide.

Facebook, Patterns and Predictions, and VERANNE noted that findings during The Durkheim Project are non-interventional, meaning that researchers will not be allowed to intervene in any participants’ situations.

Poulin said of the study:

The study we’ve begun with our research partners will build a rich knowledge base that eventually could enable timely interventions by mental health professionals. As we build upon the promising findings of our phase-one investigation, the Durkheim team is pleased to have Facebook’s partnership in helping us connect with the community of veterans, as Facebook’s capability for outreach is unparalleled.

Facebook Vice President of U.S. Public Policy Joel Kaplan added:

At Facebook, we have a unique opportunity to provide the right resources to our users in distress, when and where they need them most. We are proud to be partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs research on the Durkheim Project, so we can bring a better understanding to this important issue and equip those that use our service with even better tools to keep them safe. Through a concerted and coordinated effort on the part of private industry, government, and concerned family and friends, we believe we can make a real difference in preventing suicide and saving lives.

Readers: Do you think The Durkheim Project will be successful?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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