Pinterest uses AI to reduce self-harm content by 88% over the past year

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Pinterest announced on World Mental Health Day that it’s reduced self-harm content by 88 percent over the past year using AI.

In a blog post titled Getting better at helping people feel better, the social media platform says it’s using machine learning techniques to identify content which displays, encourages, or rationalises self-harm.

Anxiety and depression are at all-time highs while many countries are failing to properly fund mental health services. In the UK, someone commits suicide every 90 minutes.

Experts believe social media plays a large part in the record levels of anxiety and depression. Aside from issues like online bullying, it’s believed that – because people generally upload just the best parts of their lives as part of societal pressure to almost build their own ‘brand’ online – others unfairly compare themselves.

Writing from a rainy England right now, I bet if I opened Facebook right now I’d find multiple posts of people on a sunny beach with a cold drink within a few minutes. The unreasonable part of my brain could easily convince myself that everyone else is having a good time when, in reality, that’s far from the case.

While two-thirds of global suicides affect males, there’s a worrying increase in mental health issues affecting women. A study by the National Centre for Social Research found that over the past 14 years, the number of girls and young women self-harming has tripled. Social media and its pressures likely play a large role in that increase.

Aside from its AI smarts, Pinterest is also removing over 4,600 terms and phrases related to self-harm. If someone searches for one of the terms then links to free support from experts will be prominently displayed. Pinterest received guidance from expert groups like the Samaritans, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and Vibrant Emotional Health, on the approach it should take.

In the US, Pinterest added some wellbeing activities to its iOS app earlier this year. Previously, they would only be offered when someone searched for something that indicates they are feeling down. Now, all users have to search for is #pinterestwellbeing to help find exercises to improve their mood before they get too down.

It’s great to see social media platforms like Pinterest exploring the use of technologies such as AI to help solve the world’s mental health crisis. There’s a long way to go, but it’s a welcome start nonetheless.

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