Facebook has embarked on a collaboration with the Samaritans which will enable its users to access help for potentially suicidal friends. An agreement with the Samaritans allows Facebook users to report their concerns to Facebook.

Users can alert Facebook by taking a screenshot of the content of the user profile causing concern and sending it to a team of experts at Facebook. The Facebook team will then contact the user by email, informing him of the concerns raised and providing the contact details for the Samaritans.

The Facebook team will then review the content of the profile and, if concerns remain, will pass the individual’s personal information to the Samaritans. The charity will contact the user by email, informing him that Facebook has passed on his contact details and providing contact details for the Samaritans. 

A spokesperson for Facebook is reported to have said:

"At Facebook, we have developed industry-leading processes for providing support to people whose behaviour on the service indicates they may be at risk of suicide. This includes building partnerships with local support organisations that can provide on-the-ground help to anyone who finds themselves in distress’’.

Data Protection Issues

This process raises concerns from a data protection perspective given the prohibition on passing personal information particularly health (physical or mental) data to any third party without a form of consent from the user concerned. The Data Protection Commissioner’s Office is understood to be working with Facebook in order to ensure the process is carried out in accordance with Irish data protection law. A spokesperson for the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner is reported to have said:

‘’We are continuing to engage with Facebook Ireland on this matter including in relation to the legal basis, if any, that allows for such disclosures to be made to organisations such as the Samaritans in certain cases… ’We are however satisfied that Facebook’s approach in this area is entirely grounded on what it considers to be in the best interests of its users.’’