Instagram’s newest tool aims to help prevent suicide and self harm among users
Spotting content on social media that makes it sound like someone’s desperate can be a scary feeling. What do you do? On some social networks it’s getting easier to figure out, like with Instagram’s new tool for suicide prevention. It’s almost too simple and boils down to letting people know they’re not out there in the world, scrolling all alone with no love.
Now, if you see someone posting something that looks a little off, you can report it anonymously. Your friend will get a little message from Instagram saying that someone “saw one of your posts and thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you need support, we’d like to help.” Then they’ll be prompted to talk to a friend, contact a helpline, or receive tips. The hotline will vary depending on the location of the user, so at least it’s somewhat personal.
It’s also not just about suicide. They’ve tailored the language to address eating disorders and other mental health issues too, so you can get up in people’s business across the board (and you should if you’re genuinely worried about them). It’s all about connecting on a personal level, which is hard on social media.
Instagram’s COO Marne Levine told Seventeen that it was a group effort to create the tools. “We listen to mental health experts when they tell us that outreach from a loved one can make a real difference for those who may be in distress. At the same time, we understand friends and family often want to offer support but don’t know how best to reach out,” Levine said. “These tools are designed to let you know that you are surrounded by a community that cares about you, at a moment when you might most need that reminder.” Users will get the same prompt even if they don’t post anything and are just searching hashtags that suggest they’re in trouble.
Already, some hashtags like #thinspo, which are super harmful for those with eating disorders, return no results. But now other ones will bring them to the “talk to a friend” or call a hotline prompts. The social network worked with the National Eating Disorders Association and The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to come up with the right kinds of language.
Facebook also recently rolled out suicide and harm prevention tools that pretty much work the same way. You can flag a post and the user will be told that someone is worried and that they can call a helpline, talk to a friend, or get tips on how to cope. On Facebook, you can choose to contact your friend directly and the social network will help you word the message so you can get a useful response from your friend.
Suicidal thoughts and calls for help or posts about starving oneself oddly find a home on social media. It’s only responsible for the platforms and users to have everyone else’s back. Just make sure you report responsibly, because if you report my day drinking selfies or excessive shopping hauls as being a sign of a “problem,” you’re blocked for sure.