Australian family demand Google action after son's suicide
The family of a young Queensland man who took his own life is calling on Google to do more to filter the results of search terms relating to suicide.
Keelian Jensen, 19-year-old FIFO worker from Coominya in south east Queensland, who had battled with mental health issues, died last month. His devastated family describe him as a "loving and gentle" person.
"He was very affectionate. He was pretty much just a boy who wore his heart on his sleeve and who felt everything," his mother Stina Jensen said.
Mr Jensen's family said, despite his mental health struggles, he appeared to be in a good place before his death and his suicide took those closest to him by surprise.
"My son never let on, he wasn't angry, erratic, upset, there was no warning and no chance to save him," Mrs Jensen said.
"No one tells you that it is when you think all is well, when they seem at their best, when they show everyone how happy they are that this is when you actually need to be on guard."
Searching for answers after his death, Mrs Jensen turned to her son's mobile phone and said she was horrified when she saw his Google search history.
"The night before he died, he started out searching very normal things," Mrs Jensen said.
"He was right into Xbox and he had searched when this new game was coming out. He searched the moon and stuff like that, very normal things," she said.
It was after about 1am the next morning that Mr Jensen suddenly began typing in other search terms relating to how to take his own life, his mother said.
Mr Jensen had read websites and watched a YouTube video. YouTube is also owned by Google.
"I clicked on what he had clicked on and it's like a step-by-step video. I was shocked because I thought any child out there could do this," Mrs Jensen said.
"The search terms he typed in were very specific and should have raised red flags," she said.
The search terms Mr Jensen used did trigger a Lifeline ad to appear at the top of the screen, with information about how to call the service in Australia.
As well as serving information on national hotlines, Google does not allow autocomplete on search terms relating to suicide.
However, Mrs Jensen said she felt Google should do more to filter or block the search results of specific suicide search terms.
"I just think when someone is at that stage, having a Lifeline ad popping up doesn't really do anything, when they know that they can bypass that and still get to what they are looking for," she said.
"Having that information so readily available, it doesn't offer that pause, that chance to stop and think, 'Do I really want to do this?'
"I just personally don't think information relating to any way of harming yourself should be available so readily online.
"For my son, it feels like there wasn't a great deal of thought put into it. His Google history went from one normal thing straight into this sort of stuff. Maybe if he didn't have such easy access to the information, even just having him here one extra day might have been all it took for us to see what was going on and be able to do something."
A Google spokesperson told nine.com.au in a statement the search giant wished to express its deepest sympathy for Mr Jensen's family.
"Our hearts go out to Keelian's family. When people search for queries relating to suicide, we show Lifeline's 24-hour helpline number to connect vulnerable people with the help and advice they need,": the spokesperson said.
"Suicide and mental health are societal challenges that government, health experts, individuals, and organisations across many industries need to come together to solve, and we're committed to finding more ways to help people get support and care."
It is understood the search giant looks to local laws before making decisions on removing content and in Australia collaborates with the eSafety Commissioner's office.
Mr Jensen's aunt, Camilla Jensen, has started an online petition calling on Google to take further steps to block content which gives suicidal information on how to end their life.
"I believe an extra half hour could have saved Keelian's life. Imagine how many people could be helped, and saved, if Google organised search results in a way that stalled people, helped them to rewind and reset," Ms Jensen said.
The petition has so far attracted close to 1500 signatures.
* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
Contact reporter Emily McPherson at [email protected]