Facebook is looking serve as the facilitator of constructive, supportive mental health discussions between friends with today’s release of new features for the social media network and its private messaging service, Messenger.
Timed for release on the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Day, the company has unveiled a “Let’s Talk” photo filter for Stories that invites peers struggling with mental health issues to privately reach out and confide in users with an open ear.
“Much important work has been done, and will continue to be done, on social media to de-stigmatize mental health, but our research tells us that some people will never be comfortable publicly sharing their story,” a Facebook spokesperson told MobiHealthNews in an email statement. “We learned that for many people, options like private messaging play a major role in helping to communicate about mental health. In fact, more than one-third of people surveyed say that private messaging makes it easier to talk about it.”
Facebook also released an accompanying sticker pack for use on Messenger that “can can help when words are hard to find,” Antigone Davis, global head of safety as Facebook, wrote in a blog post announcing the new features. The company said that it will be donating $1 to mental health organizations such as the Crisis Text Line, ReachOut Australia, Save.org, Caritas Hong Kong and others each time these stickers are sent in a conversation, up to a maximum of $1 million.
The spokesperson told MobiHealthNews that Facebook would only be tracking these sticker sends in aggregate, and not by the individuals who are using them.
WHY IT MATTERS
Facebook says that its network serves well more than 2 billion monthly active users, with more than 1.5 billion accessing the social network on daily basis as of June 2019. This means that any efforts to raise mental health awareness or drive supportive conversations have the potential to make a massive impact — and could help connect those affected with discussion groups already established to provide support.
“People use Facebook to find communities where they can create strong connections and engage in issues they care about — and this kind of social support can help combat loneliness and isolation,” the spokesperson said. “More than 2.5 million people in the US, UK and Australia are members of at least one of the 7,000 groups dedicated to supporting people with mental health issues.”
THE LARGER TREND
This latest campaign plays into the social media company’s ongoing mental health efforts. These include an AI-based suicidal post detection tool, suicide prevention support on Facebook Live and the aforementioned Facebook Groups for mental health support. Additionally, the past year alone has seen the company release new disease mapping tools, surface blood donation notifications and clamp down on sources of vaccine misinformation in searches.
On the other hand, Facebook has often been the subject of data privacy concerns, and health information isn’t necessarily an exception. An investigation published last month found some period tracking apps were using the company’s SDKs and subsequently sharing users’ sensitive data with the social media service.