Facebook Moderators: Can they do more to help vulnerable teens?

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May 24, 2017
Time to read: 3 minutes
Facebook moderators - Hook Research

The world’s largest social networking site has come under scrutiny (again) after Facebook moderators guidelines were leaked online. In the aftermath, The Guardian has launched an investigation into Facebook’s complicated and conflicting rules on what should and shouldn’t be allowed on the social media platform.

How are Facebook moderators dealing with depression and self-harm in teens?

Hook Research specialises in working with children, teens and social media (and adapting to their ever-changing media diets). One of the biggest areas of concern for the respondents we’ve been working with is depression.

Self-harm among adolescents is on the rise and suicide is a heavy topic among young people, with one in four experiencing suicidal thoughts. 1 in 10 suicides are by those aged 15 – 24 and, sadly, only 14% of suicides under 20 have been in contact with specialist mental health services. With one in ten 5 – 15 year olds self-harming harm regularly, self-harm is becoming an ever-increasing coping method for young people.

Facebook’s moderator policy currently allows users to publish live streams of self-harm and will only remove the content once it appears there is no longer an opportunity to help them. Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management, wrote a piece for the Guardian on Monday, explaining “As the Guardian reported, experts in self-harm advised us that it can be better to leave live videos of self-harm running so that people can be alerted to help, but to take them down afterwards to prevent copycats.”

“Sometimes this is not enough to prevent tragedy, but sometimes it is.”

“When a girl in Georgia, USA, attempted suicide on Facebook Live two weeks ago, her friends were able to notify police, who managed to reach her in time. We are aware of at least another half-dozen cases like this from the past few months.”

Yet giving the above statistics, and the 1.94 billion active Facebook users, are Facebook’s moderator guidelines enough?

Facebook moderators - Hook Research

Do Facebook moderators have a duty to provide more support and guidelines?

In recent months, broadcasters have been tackling heavier subjects around mental health and the welfare of adolescents through dramas such as Three Girls and Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, which have covered suicide, grooming and sexual assault. Soap storylines continue to explore the issues facing teens today, such as Bethany’s grooming plot in Coronation Street and Bex’s sexting and bullying drama in EastEnders.

These storylines generate awareness in both parents and children, but also allow for a discussion to open up at home or with friends around subjects that may have previously not been talked about. Additionally, soaps are followed with links and support options for those who may have been disturbed by the content viewed, something that Facebook moderators could potentially learn from.

Many of us have stumbled across something we may find deeply distressing whilst on social media.

Whilst the content may be a trigger for some people and others just scroll on, Facebook provides limited options for those experiencing upsetting content. Though for those posting self-harm content, Facebook has a law enforcement response team and trigger points for welfare checks with agencies, there is still a question remaining about those who are vulnerable to ‘copycat’ behaviour or could be negatively triggered in other ways.

How often do the young teens witnessing these acts really know how to respond appropriately, in time or at all? How many children and adolescents know which helplines to call? And how many know where to turn to after they’ve seen a friend self-harm and are upset, scared, or feeling the same thoughts themselves?

If Facebook moderators are allowing content of this nature on their platform, do they have a responsibility to support both those publishing the content and those witnessing it? Whilst society needs to become more aware and more educated about how to respond and where to go for guidance and support, Facebook is building its own ‘global community’ that is bringing people ‘closer together’ – so shouldn’t they be looking after all of their friends?

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