Investigating Google's suicide-prevention efforts in celebrity suicides using agent-based testing: A cross-national study in four European countries
Google can act as a "gatekeeper" for individuals who seek suicide-related information online (e.g., "how to kill oneself"). The search engine displays a "suicide-prevention result" (SPR) at the very top of some suicide-related search results. This SPR comes as an info box and contains supposedly helpful crisis help information such as references to a telephone counseling service.
It remains unknown, however, how Google has implemented the SPR in the especially dangerous context of celebrity suicide for which imitational copycat suicides in vulnerable individuals are most likely.
Relying on agent-based testing, a computational social science method, we emulated a total of N = 137,937 Google searches in April 2019 in which both general suicide-related and specific celebrity suicide-related search terms were used. Given the recently discovered language-based differences in SPR display rates, we held the language constant and focused on German-speaking populations in four European countries.
The SPR was never shown in searches for celebrities who died by suicide in all four countries. Furthermore, analyses indicated a digital divide in access to suicide-prevention information with moderately high SPR display rates in Germany and Switzerland, yet with no display in Austria and Belgium.
Higher SPR display rates could support global suicide-prevention efforts at virtually no cost by providing preventive information to vulnerable users precisely at the moment when it is apparently needed.
Arendt, F., Haim, M., & Scherr, S. (2020). Investigating Google's suicide-prevention efforts in celebrity suicides using agent-based testing: A cross-national study in four European countries. Social Science & Medicine, Advance Online Publication. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112692 (content_copy)