Samaritans’ Depression Monitor for Social Media Debuts to Mixed Reviews

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November 3, 2014; The Guardian

Samaritans Radar is a new app that analyzes Twitter feeds, scanning tweets for phrases and keywords that may indicate an individual might be considering suicide. It then emails those of their friends or followers who are registered with Samaritans Radar. (Those friends must register to be notified if one of the people they follow is using language that the app identifies as being of concern.) Key words and phrases that will raise a flag include “tired of being alone,” “hate myself,” “depressed,” “help me,” and “need someone to talk to.”

The launch happened last Wednesday to a loud and very mixed reception, including Twitter users with mental health problems as well as volunteers. Most appear to think it is just a terrible idea.

Sophie Borromeo, director of communications at the charity, said, “We want to emphasize that Samaritans Radar has been in development for well over a year, and has been tested with several different user groups who have contributed to its creation, including young people with mental health problems. We’ve also been working with academic experts from the University of Glasgow, and the University of Cardiff’s School of Social Sciences, whose research has helped develop the app.”

But Borromeo says that after hearing the outcry from the Twittersphere, it will extend its “whitelist” function so people who would rather not have Samaritans Radar send alerts to their followers can opt out.—Ruth McCambridge