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Arendt, Florian and Scherr, Sebastian (October 2016): Optimizing online suicide prevention. A search engine-based tailored approach health communication. In: Health Communication, Vol. 32, No. 11: pp. 1403-1408

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Search engines are increasingly used to seek suicide-related information online, which can serve both harmful and helpful purposes. Google acknowledges this fact and presents a suicide-prevention result for particular search terms. Unfortunately, the result is only presented to a limited number of visitors. Hence, Google is missing the opportunity to provide help to vulnerable people. We propose a two-step approach to a tailored optimization: First, research will identify the risk factors. Second, search engines will reweight algorithms according to the risk factors. In this study, we show that the query share of the search term “poisoning” on Google shows substantial peaks corresponding to peaks in actual suicidal behavior. Accordingly, thresholds for showing the suicide-prevention result should be set to the lowest levels during the spring, on Sundays and Mondays, on New Year’s Day, and on Saturdays following Thanksgiving. Search engines can help to save lives globally by utilizing a more tailored approach to suicide prevention.

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