Feb 26, 2015 · 1 minute

Facebook has announced new features to help people at risk for self-harm or suicide.

The features allow Facebook users to tell the service when someone appears to be at risk for harming themselves. Facebook notifies the person in question that someone is worried about them, asks if they want to connect with a helpline or friend, and offers "simple tips" to help them "learn how to work through this" if they aren't yet ready to talk to someone.

The service will also offer support to the person who flagged the worrisome content. (It's hard knowing that someone you care about might hurt or kill themselves.) Everything is anonymous -- Facebook won't tell someone's friends they sought help for self-harm, for example -- and the notification doesn't seem to tie the concern to a specific status update.

Which isn't to say that the tools are perfect. It's not clear if Facebook intends to hold data about these warnings and use them to inform advertisements, for instance, nor that there are safeguards in place to prevent someone from being harassed with these notifications. But, on the whole, Facebook's approach to helping those in need appears to be laudable.

It's certainly better than a tool from the Samaritans group, Radar, which allowed Twitter users to have their friends' tweets monitored and analyzed to determine if they might hurt themselves. As I explained in a post on the flawed-but-well-intentioned surveillance tool:

Wanting to help people suffering from a mental illness is an admirable desire. Making them feel like there’s nothing about them besides that illness, or like they need to be monitored to ensure that they won’t do anything to hurt themselves, though, isn’t going to help anyone. If anything, it’s going to take an almost unbearably difficult situation and make it even harder to handle.

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, Radar has just provided the construction crew with an abundance of material. Facebook's new features appear to be more respectful than Radar was. It's not making people feel like they're living under a microscope, or that the only important thing about them is their risk of self-harm. It's just providing simple tools meant to make it a little easier for friends -- or at least Facebook friends -- to keep an eye out for each other.