Talkspace, which has raised at least $60 million from investors like SoftBank to power online chat-based therapy, offered a free Facebook group to help hurricane survivors, moderated by around 20 Talkspace representatives. There were groups for both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, and Facebook offered a "very nice number" of free ads to promote the groups.
These are moderated support groups — not a medical service or traditional therapy. At their peak they had over 1,000 people, Frank said.
"The support groups hosted conversations on a wide variety of topics, including 'What do I do if my eating disorder has been triggered by the stress of the storm?,' as well as 'How do I process my survivor's guilt?' and 'The best ways to handle anxiety when applying for FEMA benefits'," Frank said.
But Facebook groups like these could reveal who has shown interest in working with a mental health professional — which could be considered a very private aspect of health and safety after trauma.
"We know that 20 percent to 25 percent of any population will suffer from mental illness every year. This means that in any given time, over 400 million using Facebook are suffering from a clinically diagnosable mental health issue," Frank wrote in an email to CNBC. "I think Facebook, with their unlimited data capabilities, knows this very well, and it's highly likely they also know exactly who the suffering users are."
Facebook confirmed it provided credits for Talkspace's ad campaign but could not disclose a dollar amount for the donation.
After the recent shooting in Las Vegas, Talkspace opted not to use Facebook groups to help employees of Live Nation, Mandalay Bay, the first responders, and the concert goers. The company is instead offering 100 months of free Talkspace therapy, which had to be done on a platform compliant with HIPAA privacy laws, so Facebook would not have suited.
But Talkspace went back to Facebook groups when it came time to reach victims of recent wildfires in northern California.
"We've decided that extending help is the highest priority," Frank said. "Facebook has its own set of considerations which I'm not a part of, but knowing many people who work there, I believe they're driven by doing the right thing and help their users — their willingness to help us is one sign of this."