Twitter restores suicide prevention feature

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Following demand from certain users and consumer safety groups, Twitter Inc has reintroduced a feature that provides suicide prevention hotlines and other safety options for anyone looking for specific material.

According to Reuters, the feature was removed a few days ago, citing two people familiar with the case who said the social media platform’s new owner, Elon Musk, ordered the removal.

Ella Irwin, Twitter’s director of trust and safety, verified the removal and declared it temporary after the story broke.

Twitter was “improving relevance, optimizing the size of message prompts, and removing outdated prompts,” Irwin told Reuters in an email. “We realize they are valuable and we did not intend to remove them forever.”

Elon Musk, who did not initially respond to requests for comment, tweeted “False, it’s still there” around 15 hours after the original claim. In response to criticism from Twitter users, he also posted: “Twitter does not prevent suicide.”

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The #ThereIsHelp function inserts a banner at the top of search results for specific topics. It includes contact information for aid organizations in various countries dealing with mental health, HIV, vaccines, child sexual exploitation, Covid-19, gender-based violence, natural disasters, and freedom of expression.

By Saturday, the banner had returned to searches for suicide and domestic violence in a variety of countries using phrases like “shtwt,” short for “Twitter self-harm.”

It was not clear if the feature had been reinstated for additional categories. The functionality was not being displayed for several search phrases, such as “#HIV”, which Twitter had previously claimed enabled it.

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On Saturday, Irwin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Twitter prohibits users from promoting self-harm, but consumer safety organizations have rebuked the company for allowing tweets they believe violate the rules.

Tweets with graphic images of people cutting their arms appeared on Saturday along with banners about self-harm searches.

The absence of #ThereIsHelp prompted several consumer safety organizations and Twitter users to express concern for the safety of the platform’s most vulnerable users.

For years, Internet services including Twitter, Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook have tried to send users to resource providers known for security issues, in part due to pressure from such groups.

Twitter’s Irwin stated in an email on Friday that “Google does incredibly well with these in their search results and (we) are actually mimicking some of their approaches with the tweaks we’re making.”

“Google offers extremely relevant message ads based on search keywords, are constantly updated, and scale well for both mobile and web,” he noted.

Eirliani Abdul Rahman, a member of a recently disbanded Twitter content advisory board, described the removal of #ThereIsHelp as “very disturbing” and noted that removing a feature entirely in order to redesign it was unprecedented.

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Categories: Technology

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