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What to do if we have serious concerns for the welfare of a DL forum user?

Recently I noticed a DL user who expressed serious distress and a suicide threat'. I am crisis and suicide intervention trained and think that we all should know what to do if we see such a post. We are a large community and there will be times when distress, which may indicate a true risk to the user's welfare, spills over into the forums. The moderators are unable to check every post in every discussion. May I suggest a plan for what to do if we come across a post that gives us serious concern for the user posting it? I expect other users will have experience and suggestions that can improve this, particularly as all my experience is face to face, not online or telephone, so please contribute!

Once we have agreed what to be done, I suggest DL staff should display this clearly for all users to see without a lot of searching. Would another sticky be too much? Where would be best to advertise it? I think this is important enough to translate into other languages for too. What do you think

So these are my suggestions for some guidelines:

  1. How to spot a suicidal person online. Be alert to the possibility. Worldwide someone commits suicide every 40 seconds. Take all posts expressing serious distress or ideas of self-harm seriously, even if you see that the person has repeatedly posted in the same way. Do not assume that they don't really mean it. It is a myth that people who commit suicide do not talk about it first. Most people who commit suicide do talk about it first.

  2. How to respond to the post. Do not ignore the post. You may save someone's life by taking action. The most appropriate person to respond to the post is a moderator or other member of DL staff.

  3. Contact a moderator. Contact two moderators and email Abuse@duolingo.com. Include a full link to the person's profile, a screen shot of the person's comment, and a link to the post if the comment was made in a discussion post. To locate a moderator go to http://www.duolingo.com/comment/13007546. Try to protect the person's identity by deleting the message after sending it. Once the matter has been handed over to DL staff, you have done as much as you need. DL can privately signpost the distressed user to appropriate help. Your action may have helped save a life.

Note for DL staff/Moderators: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org seems to be a good website to refer people living in the USA to. Another international referral page is http://www.befrienders.org gives contact details in many countries. I'm no good at putting in links. Please change anything you want to improve it and correct any mistakes.

March 5, 2017


Sorted by top post


I am also trained and spent years working in crisis and suicide prevention. And I disagree with your idea that reporting to mods or abuse@duolingo is helpful. As has already been mentioned abuse@duolingo is not particularly responsive. And I have seen no sign of any training in this matter among staff. More importantly accounts are unverified so there is not much that can be done here.

Further I have seen kids playing suicidal on here for lingots and attention. If someone has a genuine concern it would be better for them to encourage them to seek real help which is not going to be found at this site.

It would also be good for those concerned to not make posts about the individuals they are concerned about in the forum encouraging everyone to go swarming to their profile (which has happened in the past). Overwhelming them with posts from strangers on the internet, many of which are kids with little or no insight into real life problems, is not helpful either.

March 5, 2017


Great to have your input. I agree mainly. Non-trained staff can signpost if given resources, and I have given two websites that can be used as resources. The post causing concern and all responses to it should be removed ASAP (not just hidden) to avoid any swarming of people contacting the poster. Further those responding, if responding kindly, can be thanked for their concern and assured that the person is being signposted to help, while being asked not to contact this person or other people posting similar posts further. No post should be considered as 'playing' suicidal for attention or lingots, just as no 'joke' about having a bomb packed in one's luggage however lightly made can be ignored. They must be taken seriously.


There are lingot begging posts that do in fact "joke" about suicide. Treating those the same as someone who has serious issues is not helpful to anyone and only encourages such behavior.


Thanks for the information. I'm a newbie and not seen these so cannot judge. But surely to take the posts down asap and signposting cannot do any harm? If people are seen to repeat the behaviour and are also not seen to engage in learning a language maybe their account should be discontinued, as long as they have been signposted. Nobody on the site can be presumed to have had training in this and a clear, but kindly worded, warning from staff that this is not the appropriate place for such posts and direction to the suicide help site is the best one can do together with discontinuing the account. However, as we have agreed, it is not up to us to decide if the poster is suicidal or not. The majority of us are not trained. Even if we were, one or even half a dozen posts will normally not tell us for certain. I would say that no post that anyone is concerned about or with a suicide threat should be reported. Do not expect the user to make a decision as to whether there is a risk. This is unfair with the I formation given in just one or a few posts. Then DL staff themselves need to make a policy on how to handle each report, and if they do not think they need to signpost and delete, possibly suspending or deleting the account they need to justify their decision, find another answer and take that responsibility and be accountable.


We have not agreed that and this is a good example as to why people here should generally not respond. Very few people here are good reading other people's posts without reading into it what they want it to say. Their responses are too often unhelpful, particularly in serious situations. And since they have allowed the children to take over the forum and use it as a playground, most of the adults have been moving away from duolingo forums. Leaving few people to respond with anything other than histrionics or an agenda.

Some people make it very clear what they are doing and duo has not held them accountable for playing this way. Which is another reason expecting duo staff to be able to handle this situation seems pointless to me.


Thanks again for your input. I think we are responsible for what we do, and not for what others do or decide. Unless we have actual power to change things all we can do is offer advice (even if that advice is to seek advice from someone who can help rather than give the final advice ourselves) and then it is up to the other person/people.

Rather than just saying what I am suggesting is pointless, what about suggesting something positive. At least if we users do what we can, and make positive suggestions to DL staff and mods we will have done our bit.

Sorry but for now I must stop this discussion from my end. I was volunteering last night, and today had a busy day. I need to sign off for now and get some sleep! But I hope there will be positive contributions overnight. Also I want to get on with learning some French tomorrow and I do believe I have contributed what I can. It is not perfect, but I do not believe however long we discuss we will get a perfect answer. However, with a variety of opinions maybe a moderator may be able to piece together a compromise that, while not perfect, is the best we can do under the constraints we have.

Thanks for all the input so far and for what will still come in.


Thanks for your message saying 'And here you go making accusations and not reading what I was actually saying. How very helpful.'. I have still had little sleep (told everyone I needed sleep as the reason for signing off at that time) , so this may be the reason I cannot see what I have said or done wrong in your eyes, or maybe I am misinterpreting what you have said? When I went to bed last night I had had only about 3 hours sleep in the preceding 72 hours. I had not wanted to be rude and walk out in the middle of a discussion, but I was simply too tired.

Now I have read and re-read the post here that resulted in your message (above quoted) and I cannot see what I have written that appears to offend you. Maybe I was a bit brief in my tiredness? But in the overall context of an adult conversation with a fellow trained crisis interventionist I cannot see what is wrong with what I wrote. I am not upset or offended in any way, just puzzled. Would you like me to fill out what I mean in that post to make it clearer? I have brought your comment into the discussion rather than reply directly as I welcome anyone who can help me to understand the dynamic here in our conversation to make a comment, and also I don't understand why you didn't say what you said to me in a public way. I am happy to receive appropriate criticism as are all mature adults. It is one of the things that helps us grow when we recognise that we can also be wrong, so I think you again!


When I have reported these incidences, staff have gotten back to me saying they've sent resources.


It would be fine if reporting to mods resulted in immediate contact to staff so they could receive resources. It would be nice if it also prevented messages from being posted to their account as well. However, we do need to recognize that this is an international site with no verification process so knowing what country a user is from is not easy therefore getting the right resources to them is problematic. Also, responding to a suicidal person in a way that is culturally appropriate can be tricky and well meaning people can do more harm than good.

It should also be noted that the skills for moderating and the skills for dealing with a suicidal person are very different and having mods intervene as anything more than as someone who can get staff attention quicker can also make the problem worse.


The last information I had from last year is that staff agrees: moderators should not be doing interventions outside of alerting staff to the situation.

As you've said, there are cultural considerations and staff have not trained moderators in how to do interventions.


I agree. The mods are simply alerted so that posts can be removed from view and DL staff informed. The mods and DL staff need to sort out their communication with us and each other in urgencies and emergencies, but it cannot be expected to be like a suicide intervention site. However I do believe the current situation can be improved if there are agreed and well advertised guidelines. As far as the international side of things is involved, of course some cultural mistakes may be made, but one of the websites I offered signposts to resources in many different countries. These will be culturally appropriate. The staff need to take proper advice themselves and formulate their guidelines. What cannot be done is nothing. DL staff do have a duty of care to all DL users.


Hi Usagiboy7! Looking again through this discussion, I don't think I really need to modify anything in my original suggestions, except to suggest how to proceed if for reasons of a AB test or due to some other lack of access to functions on the site that prevents one from following the suggestions. This is much further down in the discussion where I have not suggested what others should do, but I have said what I might do. Also, I would be really happy if people who do not have enough English to access this would be able to read these suggestions in other languages. Do you have any comments re this? I still cannot access activity streams and this is why I am asking this here.


Thank you for this post! I am reassured to see what you, with training in crisis prevention, have to say. This is exactly what should be done (and is done).

If you notice someone in distress, notify a moderator (or several) via their activity stream. We can contact staff, who intervene and provide the Duolingo user with links and phone numbers for support available in their home country.


Thanks. The implementation is the problem. See above and my recent efforts https://www.duolingo.com/comment/21208877 which resulted from the fact I do not have the facility of contacting a moderator direct.


If I write to you on your activity stream, do you get an email notification? Can you read what I write to you via your email notification?


Just to highlight, if you are contacting moderators, please make your first comment something that does not mention the person's username. Then, attach the rest of your message to that one. This is because the first comment does not always delete. But, the comments attached to it do. After giving the needed information to moderators, please delete the message. This is to protect the person's privacy. It is unfortunate, but some people are entertained by harassing people who are in pain. So, protecting that person's privacy while Duolingo is getting that person resources is important.

Next, if you see someone harassing the person, please contact a moderator right away. Comments like "go kill yourself" and "just go die", etc. will result in an account ban on the person making such comments, if not account removal.


Yes, that's right. I agree. I do not know how to highlight something when posting, though I do know how to. edit. Should we change my original post now, or make a compilation or an edit with all the advice once most people have had the opportunity of looking at it? I think do any changes all together at the end, but what do you think? Just a thought. I don't know anything about designing a website, but would it be possible, as well as having upvoting and downvoting arrows under each post, to have an 'urgent report' button? This button would draw the post to the attention of moderators only (it should not highlight the post in any way to other users) and be so easy. I thought of it as similar to the report this sentence buttons when we have a problem with DL's exercises. It should not be visible to other users. To avoid accidental reporting, a box could come up to ask if we are sure we want to report the post and maybe also the facility to say a very few words as to why we consider it needs reporting urgently. I have been in the situation where very few would understood a person was at risk and it was only due to my own experience in the field that I understood what was happening and what was being said. If it had been a post an uniformed moderator would not have understood why I had reported it. 'Ordinary', non-urgent, reports should continue as normal.


Unfortunately, no. Basically, every place people can express themselves individually on Duolingo is regularly misused. I feel that it would be less likely to be abused at least, if they had to deviate from the areas they use the most. So, next to discussions and comments would be a bad place to put it. Possibly something in the Help menu though? It is more out of sight of course. It would be a compromise. It would be directly listed, but out of sight unless someone looks for it.


Thanks for all your support with this. Yes, placing something in the help menu would be good. But we must make sure it is available to everyone whether using a mobile device or computer and must not be compromised by AB tests or suchlike. I have no access to 'Report Abuse' nor 'Activity' and cannot contact a moderator, so this seriously affects implementation of this for myself. Would we suggest translating it, and if so, into what languages? How do we proceed from here?


My internet cut out just as I was sending a reply.

If you cannot contact a moderator, you can email Abuse@duolingo.com

As for translating, usually English is the test area for new Help pages, guidelines updates, etc. Once those pages have a bit of a test period, updates are made available in other languages. I don't know why there is a delay. Possibly to safe on translation costs. Get it tested out in one, make the adjustments needed, and then invest in translations. I can only guess.

As for how to proceed from here, if you'll take in the discussion and comments, and put together what you see as the best plan from among these ideas and type it up, post it as a comment. There will be a mod/staff meeting coming up at some point so we can address some safety issues. I don't have a date yet. But, this is something I already want to discuss during that meeting. So, if you'll put it together, I'll bring it to my team to troubleshoot it, and from there I'll bring what we've got after that stage into the meeting with me.


Good, thanks. That's clear. It will take me a couple of days.

It is good to have an email address for abuse as I did try to report abuse via the help:


but simply repeatedly got and error message when trying to send, saying I wasn't logged in, but I definitely was. I even got someone much more computer literate than myself to try. Maybe the email address for abuse should be on that webpage as well as with the compilation I will write?


Really pleased you have posted this! Very good post and I am glad you have highlighted these specific points. I second all the pioints you have made and especially the point about taking it seriously, especially from when you first view a post.

Duo moderators need to be made aware as soon as possible, using duolingo and the Abuse@duolingo.com email is spot on.

Suicide is a distressing topic for a lot of people and as Duolingo grows and grows users may turn to the forums (just as people do on Facebook, twitter etc) to post their emotions and intentions.

Thank you for posting this.


Abuse at duolingo is six months behind . . . Moderators are probably your best bet.


Thanks! Maybe there is a way of flagging really serious posts, such as risks of self harm. DL could suggest a way, maybe? I thought of requesting users to start a new discussion (and I think that moderators do skim at least the titles of new discussions) with a title alerting a moderator contacts the person posting the new discussion urgently but without giving any details until the moderator does so. I thought this is because I have no current access to my own or other peoples activities and have not had for most of the time I have been a member, despite having followed all instructions I have found or been given. Such a post could be deleted as soon as a moderator contacts the person posting. I have been told we cannot ask anyone to post anything. I would have hoped this might be a bit more flexible in an emergency, but maybe we can get a comment on this from a moderator as to if emergencies might be made an exception? Unless a moderator emails me in such a way that I can reply (and then delete), I am unable to follow these guidelines and contact a moderator direct. I know from looking at discussions that I am not the only one with this problem.


I just messaged you on your activity stream. There goes that! Do you get email notifications when someone writes on your activity stream? Can you read the comment in your email?


yes, I get a notification on the DL website plus and email. When I click on the green 'go to activity' box in the email now all I get is a darker blue DL menu bar with 'duolingo Home Words Discussion' then a gap the the French flag icon, a silhouette (oh, that looks a bit of a French word!) of a head and shoulders, Anneduol1ngo, v, the streak icon, the lingots and finally the notification icon. There is no 'activity' written anywhere. Beneath this is a lighter grey-blue blank page, the same colour as the cancel button on posts. usagiboy7 and n6zs have both offered advice but so far no change in my access. If I click on usagiboy7 or n6zs, both moderators and the only ones I have clicked following on I still cannot access activities. Nor can I access my own activity. Please see what I had to do to get a moderator a few days ago when I encountered the problem of a person at risk here (person not identifiable on this link): https://www.duolingo.com/comment/21208877


I read that discussion (thank you!) What I am not clear on is: If I write you on your activity stream and you get the notification in email, does the email show you what I wrote? Do you have any way of discovering what I said to you?


It seems that most who have something to contribute have had their say. Thank you to all of you caring, concerned people who have offered positive criticism, encouragement and advice. I will go though it all again in the next day or so and write out another draft version for more comment.

A couple of queries from my op that have not been commented on or answered I repeat here: How and where should the agreed version be advertised? What languages, if any, should it be translated into (and maybe who by!) It would be a pity if only English speakers have access to it so where to display it and what language(s) is important.

Thanks again!


Here is what I have put together from the whole discussion as a suggestion for action if we are concerned about the welfare of any DL user, plus a few added comments. Over to you, moderators!


What to do if we have serious concerns for the welfare of a DL forum user.

We are a large community and there will be times when distress, which may indicate a true risk to the user's welfare, spills over into the forums. The moderators are unable to check every post in every discussion. DL cannot be expected to act as a suicide intervention site.

If any user of DL notices another DL user expressing serious distress or suicidal thoughts the following can be followed. It can also be followed if it is noticed that a DL user is being harassed or bullied.

  1. How to spot a suicidal person online. Be alert to the possibility. Worldwide someone commits suicide every 40 seconds. Take all posts expressing serious distress or ideas of self-harm seriously, even if you see that the person has repeatedly posted in the same way, even if you think the person is spamming. Do not assume that they don't really mean it. It is a myth that people who commit suicide do not talk about it first. Most people who commit suicide do talk about it first. DL staff will take the decision how to respond.

  2. How to respond to the post. Do not respond yourself to their post but also do not ignore the post. Do not upvote or downvote or give lingots. You may save someone's life by alerting DL staff via a moderator. The most appropriate person to respond to the post is a member of DL staff. DL staff can, and do, signpost DL users to help appropriate to their culture.

  3. Contact a moderator. Contact two moderators and email Abuse@duolingo.com. Include a full link to the person's profile, a screen shot of the person's comment, and a link to the post if the comment was made in a discussion post. To locate a moderator go to http://www.duolingo.com/comment/13007546. Try to protect the person's identity by deleting the message after sending it. The first message may not delete, so put something like just 'concerned over welfare' and send and then your full message with enough information to enable the moderator to identify the person and the post and to know why you are concerned , then hit send followed by delete. The moderator will be able to see your message but it will not be visible to others.

Do everything you can not to draw other users' attention to the person you are concerned about.

  1. An 'Urgent report post' button in the 'Help' section to be added. The above works for the current website. If the DL Help section were to be modified by adding an 'Urgent report post' button, similar to the buttons for reporting sentences in the language exercises, this could be used to directly send messages to DL staff and moderators about urgent matters in a way that is not seen on the activity streams. There would then be no risk of drawing unwanted attention to the DL user expressing distress.

Notes for DL users Moderators are alerted so that posts can be removed from view and DL staff informed. Once the matter has been handed over to a moderator (and emailed to Abuse) they will contact DL staff, and you have done as much as you need. DL staff can privately signpost the distressed user to culturally appropriate help. Your action may have helped save a life.

Even if the person is 'spamming' it is appropriate to follow this protocol. People who are spamming also need the attention of DL staff, and while we may strongly suspect the post is not genuine it is not our responsibility to make that decision. While DL staff may not have had suicide intervention training, they are able to signpost the person and/or take appropriate action re their posts and account. The DL staff can also take advice from someone trained if they are not sure of how best to respond to a given post.

Note for DL staff/Moderators: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org seems to be a good website to which to refer people living in the USA. Another international referral page is http://www.befrienders.org gives contact details in many countries. Any DL users reporting concerns should be replied to quickly so that they can be reassured that the matter is in hand. If the moderator or staff agrees with the concern, the post should be removed, not simply hidden from view. If DL staff are not sure how to proceed, given they are not trained/experienced regarding handling distressed or suicidal people, they should have a helpline available for them to discuss what to do.

PS. My time in London went well. I returned home yesterday early evening. Londoners are very resilient! I was also impressed by how people came from a long way just to show support, even from other countries.


Hi to anyone following this! I was in the process of reviewing this discussion in order to imcorporate all the helpful contributions together to modify my original post. Unfortunately we have had the London attack and I am currently here in London as a trained volunteer helping people to cope in the aftermath emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Obviously trained counsellors are also at work. I can honesty say my diverse England and London is very strong, if anything stronger than before. It is a privilege to volunteer here among such wonderful people. I am also so grateful to all those from other countries who are showing their support, including many French speakers. I just wish my French were better. I long to get to the part of the tree that deals with the spiritual and wish my ability to speak were better overall. Communication in French is extremely basic and i cannot help or support anyone in French, but this is why i started DL in the first place. All the above was by way of explaining why i am currently not working on this site. But I assure you that once the acute phase of intervention is over I will return home and resume working on this discussion asap. Thanks for your patience.


Please, stay safe if work permits it! Also, don't forget to care for yourself. Hydrate, remember to eat and rest. Talk with a friend or a therapist if you need to. Thank you for being there, supporting people and making a difference! There is time, so focus on what you need to focus on. :)


Hi Usagiboy! I think the new website means some modifications are needed in this. Where do you think we should go from here? Not heard from you for some time now. Desperately sad about yet another attack in Paris.


While staff are watching, I recommend making it into a comment for

http://www.duolingo.com/comment/22226909 (Activity stream announcement)


https://www.duolingo.com/comment/22240575 (Faster website announcement)

If it would be welcome, here is a hug. :'(


Hi Usagiboy7! Do you mean copy and paste that last bit at the end, my compilation into those two posts? I am concerned that this can count as spamming, but I assume not given you are telling me to do it. Further, it is obvious that nobody on the new website can contact mods now, so that bit won't work. Hugs are lovely. We all need them at times. Here's one for you! (((( )))) ;-)


One thing i've started to do when mentoring new moderators is to help them manage their expectations of Duolingo. I started this because we had great new moderators going out like shooting stars. They were unsatisfied about something and wanted immediate change. When they didn't get it, they were discouraged and then bitter and then they resigned. Their expectations were not matched to the reality of how change happens on Duolingo. Change is often very very slow.

Fpr instance, staff was aware of and really liked this suggestion when it came out: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/11966489. Notice that it was posted a year ago. It is only now being A/B tested for some app users. That isn't because staff didn't like it. It is because Duolingo has a lot on its plate. So, it had to wait its turn. And now it has to go through a testing project.

I can't guarantee if Duolingo will implement a system to make crisis alerting easier. There are many things I don't understand about the kinds of things Duolingo is juggling in order to make itself a reality and to keep it a reality.

I do, however, now have a timeline for when mods and staff will be discussing crisis resources. It is not soon. But, it is on the roster. We'll bring this up. I can't guarantee any specific result or even if I'll be able to discuss anything after. But, at the very least know that we will have taking things as far as they can be brought for the moment. Duolingo is always changing. Even if we get No's for various ideas, there is always the future beyond. Taking this approach as a moderator has kept me here a considerably long time, and because of it I've still been here to seen changes that I had hoped to see. So, let's not give up. But also, make sure to do self-care. If you need to step back from this one campaign, you should. We'll carry it. :)


We will do our best. :)


I am still receiving messages from some folks who are communicating via my profile. I'm not certain if everyone is able to though.

I was referring to presenting the main concern and suggested solution to staff in those two discussions. I would make it as concise of a message as possible, seeing as how they are having to read through a lot of messages as is.


Understood now. My thoughts exactly, but I had misinterpreted what you said. I am on a further training course for helping people in distress all day, so will try to do this this evening...around 12 hours from now.

I have read through this discussion, though skimming some parts. The new site is being rolled out over a few weeks so some will be still on the old website and so able to use the old facilities.


Did as you suggested 24 hours ago. Posts got buried in the depths of the discussion I think and will not be responded to. Nothimg so far. Any further suggestions? Currently I feel I am hitting my head against a brick wall and the wall is harder than my head. I am feeling discouraged. I am not sure that this is worth pursuing because I do not know how to bring it to the attention of those who can act. Will it take a preventable suicide to make DL pay attention?They do have a duty of care. I love DL, would hate anything to go wrong, DL would also suffer not only the distressed DL user should there be any kind of incident. I know you are a volunteer but don't you have any way of progressing this? Perhaps it is your circumstances that make it hard for you? If so, what about getting a different mod to take over?


Thanks! Just an acknowledgement from DL staff with a commitment to take it further would be nice. But I don't see how I can do any more, do you? I am not a moderator, have no aspirations to be a moderator, but I do care about the added risks this new site is exposing users to. Instead of improving things for people who want to report concern it has made it just about impossible! If I could just be sure they are aware of the problem and have things in hand I would feel happier. I think I have done all i can now, so I really do have to leave it to you.


Thanks. I'm sure we will be in communication again soon!

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