Investigating Google's suicide-prevention efforts in celebrity suicides using agent-based testing: A cross-national study in four European countries

Rationale:
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.

Objective:
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.

Methods:
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.

Results:
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.

Conclusion:
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)

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