January 23, 2021

Popular social media site Facebook will introduce suicide prevention and support tools for vulnerable Australian users in the coming months, a company official has said.

The initiative, which was welcomed by mental health groups when it was unveiled in the US earlier this year, allows users to report concerning online posts, The Brisbane Times reported on Friday.

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The posts are then reviewed by Facebook, which can then send the original poster a message of support or advice on where to seek professional help.

Mia Garlick, Facebook’s Australia and New Zealand policy head, said that the company was working with the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre on a localised version of the suicide prevention initiative.

“All the feedback has been strong and powerful from a lot of the clinical experts and we’re looking forward to rolling that out in Australia in the coming months,” she told Fairfax Media.

The Mark Zuckerberg-led Facebook has also ramped up its campaign to tackle bullying, taking its approach off screen for the first time in Queensland during a workshop with students and teachers last week.

Garlick said that initial reports of abuse or bullying online were handled by teams working round-the-clock in the US, Ireland and India. There was also Australian staff that could work with police if required.

However, Garlick said that the social network did not keep statistics on the bullying complaints it received, or data on who the culprits and victims were.

“We don’t have those statistics and sometimes I’m not sure that statistics help us tell the story. For every person who does get bullied, it’s such a strong and bad situation that almost looking at the numbers doesn’t help,” she said.

“What we want to do is solve (problems) every single time it happens and make sure those people feel supported.”

Garlick welcomed the announcement of Australia’s first children’s e-safety commissioner, who has the power to fine Facebook AUS $17,000 (nearly $13,300) a day if it does not comply with takedown orders for offensive material.

It still remains unclear what will happen if the social media site does not agree with an order made by the commissioner.

“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. We’ve been engaged with the Australian government for many years when it comes to what constitutes harassing and bullying content,” Garlick said.

“For bullying and harassing content, we try and act on it within a 24-hour timeframe…” she added.