Ways to commit sucide (sic) spurs Google to offer help

A car is fast approaching in the background as two feet are visible in the foreground. The person whose feet we see is apparently considered this one of the best "ways to commit sucide," or "ways to commit suicide" if you care to spell it properly.

Don't try this at home or in a laboratory. (Photo: ThinkStock)

Google is always searching for new ways to aid people in their online searches via customized suggestive ads, but who could have predicted that something like “ways to commit sucide” (sic) would be one of the more popular searches for which the company could help the public? How to find payday loans or a cash loan would have been slightly less controversial, or even where to find places that sell medical marijuana. But “ways to commit sucide” (sic)? What’s Google’s game plan, here?

‘Ways to commit sucide,’ regardless of bad spelling, is quite serious

According to Big Mouth Media, what Google is doing is attempting to offer a public service. Preventing suicide is, of course, compassionate and in the general interests of public health. Whether it’s “ways to commit sucide,” “ways to commit suicide” or “suicidal thoughts,” Google has been offering a free hotline number so that those searchers who are at risk can seek help. According to the company’s chief health strategist, Dr. Roni Zeiger, “We looked at many of the possible queries that could reflect interest in the topic.” Furthermore, the inclusion of search queries like “ways to commit sucide” is merely a conservative start to their public health efforts.

This is Google’s second shot at steering users with troubling searches

In their coverage of Google’s suicide prevention efforts, the New York Times reports that the company had previously offered links to a national poison control hotline for those users who searched for terms like “poison emergency.” This came after one mother wrote to the company, claiming it was difficult to find information after her daughter swallowed something potentially dangerous. She asked and Google delivered what Zeiger describes as a much more “straightforward” path to the necessary poison control info. In fact, that incident is what inspired Google’s public health focus, says Zeiger.

Search feature not functional outside the U.S. yet

For instance, Google UK does not yet offer the obvious hotline connection for searches like “ways to commit sucide” or “ways to commit suicide” as yet. But Big Mouth indicates that sponsored links for counseling and psychiatry do appear in related Google UK searches. That’s a positive start.

But what about less positive search results?

Searches like “ways to kill,” when fed through Google Suggest, still produce possibilities like “ways to kill yourself without pain” and links to things like the gory film short “Top Ten Ways to Commit Suicide,” writes Big Mouth. Removing those in the interests of public health could be considered infringement upon free speech and freedom of information on the Web. Thus, Google must tread carefully. What do you think a reasonable solution might be here?

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