We’ve all heard tragic stories about online bullying and teen suicide. But, a new study suggests Twitter can be used to in suicide prevention. Researchers from Brigham Young University created an algorithm that scanned through millions of tweets across the nation looking for terms like suicide, dying, and other key words linked to depression or bullying. What they found was amazing. The suicide talk showed up in state-by-state numbers that closely mirrored each state’s actual suicide rates. In other words, early warning signs are available, if only every person were identifiable on Twitter.
The researchers suggest that, at the very least, suicide hotline groups could use the algorithms to respond via twitter instead of waiting for an old fashioned telephone to ring. Or, schools could have students register their twitter accounts (no privacy concerns, as tweets are public anyway) and the technology would give school counselors a ping when a student’s Tweets become concerning.
In the meantime, it’s important that all parents follow their teen on twitter and friend them on Facebook. Adolescents will write things on social media that they won’t say out loud. Following them as a quiet observer can help parents get inside their kids heads. However, I don’t suggest interacting with them much on social media unless you are prepared for the other kind of suicide — social suicide!