UK university will study students' social media data to prevent suicide

Northumbria University is hoping to create a data analytics tool to spot suicide warning signs.

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Maskot via Getty Images
Maskot via Getty Images

A university in the UK is planning to use data analytics to help prevent student suicide. Northumbria University, and a handful of partner organizations, will collect data from students' social media accounts to create an "Early Alert Tool." If successful, it will identify students in crisis so the university can provide aid.

According to a press release, the university already looks at data like grade patterns, lecture attendance and library use to flag potential mental health issues. Now, funding provided by the Office for Students will allow researchers to develop more data points. Given that most students likely use social media more than the library, the data may be more relevant.

It's not clear exactly what data the university will glean from students' social media accounts. While some worry monitoring students' accounts could be an invasion of privacy, a university source told The Telegraph the data will be protected and the program will be opt-in, so students will have to consent to sharing any data. If the program works as intended, it could be implemented at universities throughout the UK. With any luck, it will provide another tool to fight the widespread and complex issue of student suicide.

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