Facebook bid to cut HK teen suicides

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 June, 2011, 12:00am


A Hong Kong Samaritan group is teaming up with Facebook in an attempt to stem the growing number of teenage suicides in the city.

The international social networking site will monitor the language in messages posted by young users.

And it will alert the city's Samaritan Befrienders group if any teenagers show signs they may want to take their own lives.

The system is already operating in the United States and Europe. But Hong Kong became the first Asian city to link up to it last week.

Project co-ordinator Ho Wing-hung said the Samaritans will regularly update Facebook headquarters in the US with expressions of despair and slang used in Hong Kong.

This information will then help the Facebook administrators spot those who may be in danger. Ho did not reveal details of the watch list, but said it may include phrases such as 'to part for good' and 'living in pain'.

Any Facebook user can also fill in a form to notify the administrators about friends they are concerned about. Ho allayed privacy concerns by stressing the group will not have direct access to Facebook accounts.

After screening by Facebook, the suicide prevention group will receive e-mail addresses of those who may need help and will contact them directly. According to records of the Coroners' Court, 27 people aged between 10 and 19 killed themselves last year, compared to 116 aged between 20 and 29.

The suicide rate for the 10-to-19 age group increased to 3.44 per 100,000 people from 2.18 in 2005.

The increase of 59 per cent is the biggest among all age groups in Hong Kong, Samaritans chairman Robert Wong Yao-wing said.

'This is definitely a matter that we need to address,' he said.

He said the appearance of a Facebook 'suicide group' in 2009 in Hong Kong also showed the need for monitoring on social websites.

The Samaritans has conducted daily internet patrols since 2008, with a 20-member volunteer team pinpointing possible suicidal tendencies on discussion forums and blog sites.

So far, more than 300,000 sites have been screened and 1,000 people have been contacted.


The number of suicides in all age groups last year in Hong Kong. The figure dropped from 1,015 in 2009