A new app launched by the Samaritans charity will alert Twitter users if people that they follow on the network are showing signs of being suicidal.
Called Samaritans Radar, the app uses an algorithm to look for specific keywords and phrases within tweets that indicate that someone might be struggling to cope. Words and phrases that are tracked include “tired of being alone”, “hate myself”, “depressed”, “help me” and “need someone to talk to”.
Twitter users who have signed up on the Radar platform will receive an email alert if somebody they follow tweets any of these statements.
Samaritans have worked alongside academic experts to build the app, but admit that it’s in its infancy and cannot always distinguish between genuine anguish and sarcasm. However, the software is programmed to ignore tweets from organisations who regularly tweet using words that the app would normally flag.
The initiative is targeted primarily at 18-35 year-olds.
“Radar is only picking up tweets that are public, giving you an opportunity to see tweets that you would have seen anyway,” said Joe Ferns, executive director of policy, research and development at Samaritans. “But imagine that a friend had posted something in the early hours of the morning, you’re on the way to work or college and your Twitter feed is full of messages that are arguably less important – Samaritans Radar gives you the opportunity to see that tweet again and have it highlighted to you.”
Samaritans said that they had received more than 1,500 subscribers and was monitoring around 900,000 Twitter feeds after day one of the launch. However, Radar has had a mixed response on Twitter, with many users concerned about whether the app breaches personal privacy. Accordingly, Samaritans have added whitelist functionality to the app, which lets users opt-out of being monitored.