advertisement
advertisement

Crisis Text Line Is Using Chat Platforms To Proactively Offer Help

Using AI and better integration with popular apps, the peer-to-peer hotline is expanding its ability to find people in distress and offer help before the situation escalates.

Crisis Text Line Is Using Chat Platforms To Proactively Offer Help
[Source Image: style-photography/iStock]

In 2013, Nancy Lublin was serving as the CEO of Do Something Inc., a platform that mobilizes teens to volunteer. Do Something would often send out requests for volunteers via text blasts, and Lublin would sometimes see replies come through that had nothing to do with the opportunities. Teens would write back that they were feeling depressed, or cutting themselves, or experiencing sexual abuse. The obvious need and desire to communicate via text inspired Lublin to launch Crisis Text Line, the first 24/7 hotline in America to provide counseling services solely via texting, in August of that same year.

advertisement
advertisement

Though she didn’t know how effective it would be at first, Lublin soon realized that Crisis Text Line filled an unmet need. The text line and its network of trained volunteer counselors, who complete a 30-hour course online to become verified, soon began fielding tens of thousands of texts per day, then hundreds of thousands. Around 75% of the people who use the service are under the age of 25, and 10% are younger than 13. In 2015, she left Do Something to focus exclusively on Crisis Text Line, and has since spearheaded initiatives at the new platform to use data analytics to predict moments of crisis, while continuing to expand its reach.

[Source Image: style-photography/iStock]

“We’ve grown massively,” Lublin says. “And our goal is to make it easier to get help than to avoid getting help.”

That ethos has driven Crisis Text Line’s latest move–embedding its service directly into platforms like YouTube, Facebook Messenger, After School (a social platform for teens), and Kik, and partnering with Snapchat to further its reach. “We want to be wherever people are, especially if these are places that people express pain,” Lublin says.

The move is not so much about losing faith in texting as a primary form of communication among teens–Lublin says the number of young people who use the 741741 text line continues to grow–but more about trying to embed the service in a variety of platforms to track with the growth of online usage.

Crisis Text Line’s first integrated on platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Messenger and Kik around a year ago, and are formally announcing the partnerships now that they have solidified and shown successes.

The way Crisis Text Line’s presence plays out on the various platforms differs, but Lublin says that the program, in all its forms, is compliant with General Data Protection Regulation standards (the tough EU privacy law), and sought explicit confirmation that the conversations between CLT and users that transpire via the platforms will not be fed into ad algorithms or other features of user profiles. “Privacy is crucial,” she says.

advertisement

On Kik, for instance, AI scans the conversations on the service for language related to abuse, bullying, depression, suicide, and eating disorders, among other issues. A user identified as high-risk could be presented with a notification that a Crisis Text Line representative is available if they want to talk. “We’re willing to acknowledge proactively and address mental health issues among our users,” says Catherine Teitelbaum, Kik’s director of trust and safety, who adds that the feature, in its year of existence, has seen positive feedback and interactions from users.

There are, of course, vast privacy implications to a service scanning every message, and though Kik says users are anonymized, it is collecting your IP address (Facebook Messenger recently caused an uproar when it revealed it also is scanning all your messages). On the other hand, the new integrations on social platforms allow Crisis Text Line to be more proactive in identifying high-risk users, rather than waiting for people to come to them.

[Source Image: style-photography/iStock]

The whole idea of these integrations is for them to be “super low-friction,” Lublin says. When Crisis Text Line built out its original texting service, they opted for a direct number instead of an app that a user would have to download. Now presenting another way for crisis assistance to seamlessly present itself as another aspect of already-frequented platforms. On Facebook, for instance,  you can now contact a Crisis Text Line representative directly via Facebook messenger.

On YouTube, users who search for things like “how to kill yourself,” the first result directs users to Crisis Text Line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “YouTube was the first platform to reach out to us and say: ‘We knew people on the platform were experiencing pain and searching it to find solutions–we want to send them to you,'” Lublin says. “It shows that it’s a company that cares,” Lublin says. “Instead of saying that the algorithm rules the roost, and whatever search says we’ll put first, they’re putting help first.”

advertisement

“We think that what we’re providing is not just an important service to individuals, but it’s an important service to the companies–for them to have peace of mind, knowing they’re doing the right thing,” Lublin says. With abuse and triggering content on social platforms becoming an ever-more-present issue as tensions increase around topics like sexual harassment, racism, and religious bigotry–and especially for young people, political engagement around gun violence–there are proactive ways.

advertisement
advertisement

About the author

Eillie Anzilotti is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Ideas section, covering sustainability, social good, and alternative economies. Previously, she wrote for CityLab.

More