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26/10/2020  
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SOCIETY AND CONSUMER
App mobil

Samaritans Radar, alerts you when Twitter friends are distressed


Suicide-prevention charity Samaritans has launched a web-based Twitter app to identify users of the social network who may be struggling to cope and reach out to them in times of need. Samaritans Radar will privately highlight users you may be following on Twitter who have sent potentially worrying tweets. By drawing these people and their tweets -- which are easily missed to your attention -- the hope is that you can remind them that they are not alone if they are in distress.
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It works based on an algorithm that scans Twitter for specific keywords and phrases within a tweet and then emails a link to tweet to Twitter friends signed up to the app with guidance on how to reach out to that person. It is of course possible that the tweet may not be concerning in context, or may be a joke -- but the app leaves it up to human users to make that call.

Whether this puts too much pressure on people and puts them in too high a position of responsibility is of course up for debate. Samaritans doesn´t deny that it is encouraging people to get involved in sensitive situations, but does point out -- probably quite rightly: "We believe that people who voluntarily sign up for Samaritans Radar genuinely care about the wellbeing of their Twitter friends and will take action should they receive an alert." It adds that of course how you react will depend on your existing relationship with that user and the tweets they have sent. It´s also important to remember that the app is activated discreetly and all alerts are sent by email -- nothing will ever show up on Twitter itself.

There are more than 15 million active Twitter users in the UK and the charity says that it has chosen to target the network due to the way its users express their feelings on the platform and use it as a public forum, meaning there are no real data problems. According to Samaritans, 67 percent of Millennials -- its target group with this campaign -- "share ´random thoughts´, using Twitter as a pseudo stream of consciousness". While the app is Twitter-only for now, it may be extended to other relevant social media platforms in the future.

A 2013 study conducted by computer scientists at Brigham Young University in the US concluded that social platforms could serve as early warning systems for suicides. Published in the journal Crisis, the study examined the ratio of genuinely troubling suicidal tweets occurring in each state against the actual suicide rate and discovered a correlation. "Somebody ought to do something," said one of the researchers, Christophe Giraud-Carrier, at the time. "How about using social media as a complement to what is already done for suicide prevention?"

Samaritans has taken up this challenge, hoping that its simple Radar tool -- which requires users to do nothing more than complete a short sign-up process -- will provide an online safety net that reduces the chances of a cry for help going unseen.

"We know that people struggling to cope often go online looking for support, however, there is still so much we need to learn about why this happens and how we can make the online environment safer for vulnerable people," said Joe Ferns from Samaritans in a statement.

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