Investigating Google's suicide-prevention efforts in celebrity suicides using agent-based testing: A cross-national study in four European countries. Academic Article uri icon


  • RATIONALE: Google can act as a "gatekeeper" for individuals who seek suicide-related information online (e.g., "how to kill oneself"). The search engine displays a "suicide-prevention result" (SPR) at the very top of some suicide-related search results. This SPR comes as an info box and contains supposedly helpful crisis help information such as references to a telephone counseling service. OBJECTIVE: It remains unknown, however, how Google has implemented the SPR in the especially dangerous context of celebrity suicide for which imitational copycat suicides in vulnerable individuals are most likely. METHOD: Relying on agent-based testing, a computational social science method, we emulated a total of 137,937 Google searches in April 2019, using both general suicide-related and specific celebrity suicide-related search terms. Given the recently discovered language-based differences in SPR display rates, we held the language constant and focused on German-speaking populations in four European countries. RESULTS: The SPR was never shown in searches for celebrities who died by suicide in all four countries. Furthermore, analyses indicated a digital divide in access to suicide-prevention information with moderately high SPR display rates in Germany and Switzerland, yet with no display in Austria and Belgium. CONCLUSION: Higher SPR display rates could support global suicide-prevention efforts at virtually no cost by providing preventive information to vulnerable users precisely at the moment when it is apparently needed.

published proceedings

  • Soc Sci Med

altmetric score

  • 15.65

author list (cited authors)

  • Arendt, F., Haim, M., & Scherr, S.

citation count

  • 8

complete list of authors

  • Arendt, Florian||Haim, Mario||Scherr, Sebastian

publication date

  • October 2020