Siddhartha Mukherjee: Can Social Media Analytics divert or delay Suicidal Tendencies?

18 Feb,2021

Siddhartha Mukherjee

By Siddhartha Mukherjee


Yesterday, yet again, we learnt of another celebrity suicide. Yet again, there will be plenty of news and views content across media platforms on this topic including how to prevent it. And again, there will be discussions on reasons such as depression and other downsides of human life.

My contribution to this clutter is slightly different. The world of social media uses sharp technologies, analytics and research to precisely track, understand and leverage individual common man’s up sides – dreams, happiness, and aspirations. Yes, that is the world and benefit of ‘narrow’casting or the nano version of hyperlocal segmentation – much different from the yester world of ‘broad’ casting and generic overview-based studies. This information is in turn used by social media platform owners to push more such newer or related content back to the same common man. In such cases, for social media platforms owners, their business bottom line is the bottom line.

My question is that why can’t the same social media owners use the same machinery to identify the common man’s depressive state and do something to divert or delay the victim’s thought process. In this case, their no top or bottom line. It’s a new age and realistic CSR contribution!

Of course, this is based on the premise that common man’s time spent on social media is only increasing. This uncontrollable stickiness is steering the common man to such an extent that social media has turned out to be both the cause but cure of one’s mental state of mind.

Now speaking about the dark side, it is therefore quite possible for social media owners to detect sudden or even gradual changes in the way a user is participating in or responding to social media activities across platforms. That monitoring, if passed through set of algorithms, can certainly predict or red flag a potential candidate with suicidal tendencies. This itself should enable the social media platform users to do the following:

  1. Push positive, motivational, encouraging or diverting content to the potential victim
  2. Create observation reports and alert the necessary action desks across crime prevention, counselling and candidate’s family members

Let me explain. One of the key responsibilities of social media platforms and their backend analytical tools is to keep track of the kind of content you and I like. Not just that, based on our past or rolling activities or lack of activities on social media platforms, it predicts and pushes back at you and me other or new content that we may like.  Social media backend algorithms do this 24X7, 365 days a year, for people, you and me, who are living on both the sides of the world – the bright side as well as the dark downside comprising of depression and other fatal emotions.

Now imagine a case where an individual’s social media activity has (gradually) shown a dip or the conversations show greyness or darkness. If Social media platform can intelligently push positive, aspirational, happy content that will pep up the person using similar algorithms, the candidate will re-think and if not anything else, delay the deadly act of suicide. It buys more time for family and the prime detection and prevention machinery.

With content oozing across out of every single corridor of the world wide web, there is enough to push such content to make the potential victim feel good, pepped up, human and one amongst us. More importantly, not leave him or her to decay in a desolate state of mind.

It is simply about making the victim divert attention from negative and dark thoughts into something that has hope, happiness and aspiration. It forces the potential victim to reconsider the act of suicide and if not anything else, simply delays the act. Not just that, this gives the social media analytics desk to create an observation report for dedicated desks and machineries like cybercrime desks etc which are trying hard to use social media intelligence to pre-empt suicides by individuals bring down the national numbers.

The most important point is that this single source of data goldmine gives impetus to the creation of holistic task force comprising of crime prevention desks, police, psychologists, counsellors and government policy specialists to work together towards social security.



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