Twitter restores suicide prevention feature after Reuters report, ET BrandEquity
Twitter Inc has reinstated a feature that promotes suicide prevention hotlines and other safety resources for users looking up certain content, after it came under pressure from some users and consumer safety groups over its removal.
Reuters reported on Friday that the feature had been removed a few days ago, citing two people familiar with the matter who said the removal was ordered by Elon Musk, the new owner of the social media platform.
After the publication of the story, Ella Irwin, head of trust and safety at Twitter, confirmed the removal and called it temporary.
Twitter was “fixing relevancy, optimizing the size of the message commands and fixing outdated commands,” Irwin told Reuters in an email. “We know that they are useful and our intention was not to drop them permanently.”
About 15 hours after the initial report, Musk, who initially did not respond to requests for comment, tweeted “False, it’s still there.” In response to criticism from Twitter users, he also tweeted “Twitter does not prevent suicide.”
The feature, known as #ThereIsHelp, places a banner at the top of search results for certain topics. It listed contacts for support organizations in many countries related to 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 about suicide and domestic violence in several countries under terms such as “shtwt,” short for “self-harm Twitter.”
Whether the feature has been restored for other categories was not clear. The feature didn’t appear for some searches that Twitter previously said triggered it, such as “#HIV.”
Irwin did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.
Twitter bans users from encouraging self-harm, although consumer safety groups have criticized the company for allowing posts they say violate the policy.
On Saturday, tweets appeared with graphic images of people cutting their arms under banners in search of self-harm.
The disappearance of #ThereIsHelp has led some consumer safety groups and Twitter users to express concern for the well-being of vulnerable users of the platform.
Partly due to pressure from such groups, Internet services including Twitter, Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook have for years tried to direct users to well-known resource providers for security concerns.
In her email Friday, Twitter’s Irwin said: “Google does very well with this in their search results and (we) actually mirror some of their approach with the changes we’re making.”
She added, “Google provides highly relevant message commands based on search terms, they are always current and are appropriately optimized for both mobile and web.”
Eirliani Abdul Rahman, who was on a recently disbanded Twitter content advisory group, said the disappearance of #ThereIsHelp was “extremely disturbing” and that it was unusual to completely remove a feature to revamp it.
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