Can Social Media Monitoring Prevent Suicide?

durkheim projectCan social media prevent suicide? One organization seems to think so.

The Durkheim Project is a group of individuals who believe that there should be a “broader coverage of suicide risk detection” on social media networks. The goal is to monitor the behaviors of social network users and use data sources to better understand when someone is implying the idea of suicide.

In a news article on the Durkheim Project’s website, project director and principal investigator Chris Poulin says:

“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… we believe we can make a real difference in preventing suicide and saving lives.”

The Durkheim Project will observe profiles like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, looking for text and behavior that is statistically related to suicide. Participants can even volunteer to their phone’s text messages for analysis. The system will take into account posts, status updates, and structure changes and flag keywords that could be leads and if a risk of suicide is determined, the system will send an alert for intervention.

First Steps

The Durkheim Project stems from Patterns and Predictions (a predictive analytics company) and the Veterans Education and Research Association of Northern New England. With the help of Facebook, Inc., it is collecting a group of active-duty military and veterans to participate in the study. The goal is to get 100,000 volunteers on board.

Next Steps

Once the organization has the data it needs to successfully detect suicide risk and clinical approval, the goal is to intervene after a risk is found and signal someone that the person needs help (preferably a clinician or trusted family member). To make sure that a person’s information isn’t shared with a third party, the Durkheim Project will enforce the HIPAA standards of medical privacy.

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