CDC and Bark Technologies Collaborate on First-Ever Study Linking Past Online Behavior in Youth to Future Events of Suicide and Self-Harm

ATLANTA, Sept. 20, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Together with The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, online safety company Bark Technologies today announced the release of a joint national study published in JAMA Network Open, an international, open access, general medical journal that publishes research on clinical care, innovation in health care, health policy, and global health.

“The earlier that risk factors and signs of distress can be detected, the sooner a child can get the help they need.” – Brian Bason, Bark founder and CEO

This study is the first of its kind using objective measures to examine how previous online behaviors such as bullying, violence, drug-related content, hate speech, profanity, sexual content, depression, and low-severity self-harm among youth can be used to predict the risk of a future suicide or self-harm related behavior.

Launched in 2015, Bark’s online safety software uses artificial intelligence to protect more than 5.7 million children at home and in 2,900 schools and districts nationwide, alerting families and school administrators to issues of concern on 30+ popular social media platforms and apps. Over the past decade — and specifically throughout the pandemic — increased online communication has proliferated concerning behaviors among young people, including suicide and self-harm. The CDC/Bark study analyzed online activities of middle and high school-aged children sampled over a 13-month period. The data used in the study were from Bark’s ongoing programs to provide safety monitoring in schools and as part of efforts to improve suicide prevention.

“We are honored to collaborate on this critical research and partner with the CDC to preserve and protect youth mental health,” said Brian Bason, Bark founder and CEO. “The earlier that risk factors and signs of distress can be detected, the sooner a child can get the help they need.”

In the study, youth who experienced a high-severity suicide or self-harm alert based on activity on school-issued devices were compared to students who did not have a high-severity alert. Critically, both sets of students included in the study lived in the same school district, had equal numbers of online communications, and were monitored over the same time period.

The study compared both groups’ online behaviors before the self-harm event or suicide occurred and found that the students who experienced a high-severity suicide/self-harm alert had significantly higher prior incidents of risky online behavior flagged by Bark. All eight of the online risk factors studied (bullying, violence, drug-related content, hate speech, profanity, sexual content, depression, and low-severity self-harm) were associated with subsequent suicide related alerts.

“Rates of suicide and self-harm have been rising among young people in the U.S. over the past decade,” said lead author Steven Sumner, M.D., of the CDC. “It’s important that we pay attention to and really understand the new online risk factors that children are facing today in order to strengthen our prevention efforts.”

Recent studies from Bark conducted throughout the pandemic show that in the first three months of 2021, there was a 143% increase in alerts for self-harm and suicidal ideation among children ages 12 – 18 as compared with the first three months of 2020. Suicide attempts, sexting, hate speech, and bullying have also been trending upwards among young people. In October 2020 alone, Bark alerted parents and schools to nearly 1 million incidents of sexual content, one incident of sextortion, nine incidents of predatory behavior, and 1.3 million incidents of bullying across multiple platforms.

A copy of the full-text article published in JAMA Network Open can be found here. For interview requests with Steven Sumner, M.D., M.Sc., Senior Advisor for Data Science and Innovation, contact CDC Media Relations, 404.639.3286 or [email protected]. For interview requests with Titania Jordan, CMO of Bark Technologies, contact [email protected].

About CDC
CDC works 24/7 protecting America’s health, safety and security. Whether disease start at home or abroad, are curable or preventable, chronic or acute, or from human activity or deliberate attack, CDC responds to America’s most pressing health threats. CDC is headquartered in Atlanta and has experts located throughout the United States and the world.

About Bark
Bark is an award-winning monitoring and screen time management service founded in 2015 by a parent who was looking for a way to help keep his kids safe online while preserving their privacy. Bark covers 30+ of today’s most popular social media platforms, as well as texts, chat, email, YouTube, and files contained in Google Drive. Bark also monitors images, text within images, audio, and video, and has recently added screen time management and web filtering to its suite of safety solutions.

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