What Is True/Slant?
275+ knowledgeable contributors.
Reporting and insight on news of the moment.
Follow them and join the news conversation.

Apr. 7 2010 - 2:35 pm | 217 views | 3 recommendations | 0 comments

Google does good; a ‘PSR’ for suicide prevention

Looks like PSAs (public service announcements) are continuing the jump from old media to  Google’s new media search-based world. In what can be called a PSR (public service result), Google has started displaying the national suicide prevention hotline phone number in response to search terms signaling possible suicidal intent. Doing a search on “suicide methods” or “I want to kill myself” results in a prominent red telephone with the suicide hotline number, regardless of what their trusted algorithms would otherwise have displayed.

Good for you Google, you did good. Real good. I must say I’m impressed: giving away prime real-estate to help people in unbearable pain is a smart good thing to do (just don’t let it go to your head—doing good is not the same as not doing evil and you are still evil).

But nothing is perfect and here are a couple of suggestions for improving this service:

1. Expand the range of search terms included.  For example, a search on “efficient suicide” does not result in the potentially life-saving red telephone (although “painless suicide” does). Google could even partner with researchers and clinicians to find actual data on what search terms were used by people who do try to kill themselves.

2. Vary the visuals that carry the message. People can obsess about suicide: picking at the idea over and over. For those online searchers trapped in repetitive loops of suicidal thinking there will likely be many, many searches. But when people encounter the same image over and over habituation sets in and the message get’s ignored. So, to be noticed it would help to have the message packaged with several different icons or looks.

3. Add the varying message to multiple pages. The current widget only shows on the first page of search results. Google should add it on all the pages, and in varying format, to make sure the message catches the eye of the people who need to see it.

The press attention has so far been deservedly positive, such as in the NY Times, the LA Times, and HuffPo. These reports also mention how this is Google’s second PSR: the first being a link to poison control in response to relevant search terms.

Let’s hope they don’t stop here. With Google becoming our default digital background comes responsibility. Making potentially life-saving information easily accessible independent of their algorithms is an important step towards fulfilling that responsibility.  I wonder what other PSRs might be useful enough to be worth doing.

Any ideas?

[for those following the "A Clinical Portrait of Excessive Online Porn-Use" series, the fourth installment will be posted Friday]


No Comments Yet
Post your comment »
Log in for notification options
Comments RSS

Post Your Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment

Log in with your True/Slant account.

Previously logged in with Facebook?

Create an account to join True/Slant now.

Facebook users:
Create T/S account with Facebook

My T/S Activity Feed


    About Me

    I'm a psychologist and psychoanalyst with a full-time therapy practice. Over the last 20 years I've noticed how the NEXT BIG THING, or the one after that, sometimes leaves people feeling more miserable than before; life in the "future" doesn't always feel very good by the time it gets here. But sometimes it does. We just don't know how the future will feel.

    I have been writing and lecturing to professional audiences about how our emerging technologies can change how we feel about and relate to each other, ourselves, and our bodies. Now it's time to go public.

    In case you're wondering, my clinical office is like Vegas; what's said there, stays there. How could it be otherwise? So rather than writing about individual patients, I'll be writing in general about the perils and promise we all confront as we try to build a good life in our increasingly over-simulated world. While no one knows what's coming next nor how it will make life feel, one thing I do know is that for us to thrive as individuals and a society, for us to hold on to our humanity as we become post-human, we're going to have to do it together.

    See my profile »
    Followers: 82
    Contributor Since: April 2009
    Location:New York City

    What I'm Up To

    Ever been in online therapy or e-counseling?

    Even just therapy by phone or SKYPE?

    Would you be willing to talk with me about your experience?  I want stories from the “consumer” point-of view for a professional workshop about the ethics of providing care at a distance. No information will be used without your permission.

    Click the <EMAIL ME TIPS> link above to contact me if interested.