Suicide interventionist -- your guardian is online

2020-02-02 Xinhua Editor:Cheng Zizhuo

While most Chinese were enjoying the Spring Festival, Wu Gang and his team were still busy working overtime to save lives.

"Ding --" a Taobao customer service agent sent an urgent message: "A customer asked for some lethal drugs. We tried to dissuade her but in vain!"

As a member of the "Guarding Life" team of Alibaba Security, Wu immediately initiated an emergency intervention procedure. While pacifying the customer, he checked her record, intercepted other orders, and called the police as soon as possible. Finally, the police tracked down the customer and successfully saved her life.

This is another success story for the "Guarding Life" team, which has intervened in over 1,000 suicide attempts since it was founded in July 2019.

Wu is an engineer with Alibaba Security. His daily work includes training e-store agents to identify suicidal intentions, using AI systems to evaluate customers' risky behaviors, and intercepting dangerous orders with the help of logistics companies and police.

Unlike most of the employees at Alibaba, Wu's job is to race against death and that is why he calls himself a "suicide interventionist."

"Our intervention consists of several steps. The first is to identify the suicidal intention of customers," the engineer told Xinhua. "If the online customer service staff fail to dissuade them, we will intercept their orders. If they insist on placing orders, we will call the police to intervene. Up to now, we haven't reported any false information."

Wu has a master's degree majoring in pharmacy, and has been working in this field since he entered Alibaba. "The idea of suicide intervention came to me after some Taobao customer service agents expressed their concerns about customers buying dangerous products online. I wanted to help those people overcome difficulties."

As a result, he started to prepare for the "Guarding life" project in March 2019.

During the preparation stage, a case in Hangzhou strengthened Wu's determination to launch the project. In June 2019, a young woman from Hangzhou searched for various kinds of medicine on Taobao, which hinted at possible suicidal tendencies.

"We made various interventions. Finally the police and doctors located her and learned that it was mainly a result of conflicts with her mother. But her mother knew nothing about it."

In July, Wu, the only "suicide interventionist" at that time, assembled the "Guarding Life" team and cooperated with Taobao sellers and customer service agents.

According to a WHO report in 2014, more than 800,000 people worldwide commit suicide every year. There is also a large number of potential suicides, with these individuals often difficult to identify. With the emergence of "suicide interventionists," they are more likely to be noticed and rescued based on their online orders.

"I didn't expect the Internet could be so powerful. Thank you for saving me. I will take good care of myself," said a previously suicidal individual in a message to the team.

The team now has more than 20 members, including customer service agents, psychological consultants and licensed pharmacists. And there are five "suicide interventionists" like Wu, who are in close contact with more than 1,500 online Taobao stores.

"Many individuals contemplating suicide are relatively young, and 60 percent are female," Wu said. "Most suicides are impulsive. If we talk with them and listen to them, most can overcome their difficulties. Our recent statistics show that 80 percent of customers would give up buying products after our intervention."

"We don't have weekends. We have to constantly check our phones from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.," added Wu. "But what we do is bring warmth and comfort to customers on the edge of death and save their lives. So I think my work is meaningful."

With the ubiquitous reach of the Internet, Wu believes that issues like suicide also call for joint efforts from all sides.

"We will continue to work and pool more resources such as professional psychological consultants and government departments to focus on this group. Everyone can contribute and be a suicide interventionist," said Wu.

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