People Are Freaking Out Over This New Anti-Suicide Twitter App

The new Twitter app “Samaritans Radar” has been the subject of much commotion in its opening week — and the inevitable hashtag #SamaritansRadar has been trending in the UK on the social media site for days. 

It’s the creation of suicide prevention charity Samaritans in a move to go digital. It has Millennials (Generation Y, those aged between 18-35) in mind.

Tapping into Twitter’s API, its service uses an algorithm to find specific words or phrases within tweets that might be clues to suicidal thoughts. 

If someone you follow on Twitter, for example, sends out “I’m in a dark place right now”, the app will spring into action and a subscriber will be alerted and advised about the situation. 

But problems are cropping up, such as the app picking up song lyrics or quotes rather than actual calls for attention. And other people are suggesting the app could be used by stalkers.

A tweet by Channel 4 journalist Alex Thomson triggered this example in the app:

And others are picking more faults with the app, the BBC reports. One internet privacy and freedom campaigner, Adrian Short, even created an online petition to block it from using Twitter’s data to operate. 

Short feels there are lots of people being monitored who are unaware of the system and told BBC Trending that passing on details to Samaritans is “something many will not be comfortable with.”

Here’s the petition: 

Others are raising questions over privacy and interference, Ben Mason writes in the Guardian, who notes that the app stores data.

It could be a goldmine for trolls or stalkers who will be able to see when their followers are at their most vulnerable. This article likens the situation to GamerGate — the scandal in which video game players began making death threats to women who criticised sexist games — suggesting: “Radar’s auto-pilot mode can effectively tell an ill-meaning follower when the best time is to pounce.”

On Sunday, when the protest went live, the organisation’s executive director of policy, research and development, Joe Ferns, said Samaritans Radar has had a positive response and more than 3,000 have subscribed.

He added: “We will take on board any feedback we receive as we develop the app further and are taking very seriously the concerns raised by some Twitter users regarding possible data protection and privacy issues relating to the application.”

Ferns says the team is looking into the issues raised. And importantly, according to the charity, Twitter supports Samaritans Radar as part of a “wider collaboration”.

But one pressing matter remains: If anyone wants to “opt out” of having their tweets monitored by the service, they’re asked to send a Direct Message to Samaritans on Twitter — which is only possible when two users follow one another mutually. (Of course, tweeting is a public act, so it’s not as if Twitter users had that privacy in the first place.)


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