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Dublin: 3 °C Tuesday 12 November, 2019
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Is the new Samaritans app an invasion of privacy or will it save lives?

Perhaps both.

Source: Samaritans/YouTube

SUICIDE PREVENTION CHARITY Samaritans has come under fire for a new app that monitors people’s Twitter feeds.

Samaritans Radar allows Twitter users to sign up for email notifications when anyone they follow uses certain keywords that may indicate they are having mental health difficulties or are suicidal. Issues over privacy have been raised as people would not be aware that their tweets are being monitored.

An online petition calling on Twitter to step in to “protect the safety and privacy” of its users, has received hundreds of signatures.

Samaritans has defended the app, saying it 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.

The charity has reassured Twitter users that the people who will receive alerts about their tweets are followers who would have received the updates in their current feed already. Samaritans will not receive alerts.

Joe Ferns, Executive Director of Policy, Research and Development at Samaritans said: “At the heart of Samaritans’ work is the belief that ordinary people listening to the problems and feelings of one another can make a big difference to people struggling to cope.

We know from research that vulnerable individuals can go online to call for help, in the hope that someone will reach out to them, so we developed Samaritans Radar particularly for Twitter users who want to be able to support their friends.

More than 3,000 people have downloaded the app so far. Since its launch, almost 20,000 people have mentioned the app, helping #samaritansradar trend on Twitter for two days.

Ferns said that the charity is looking into the concerns raised by people, saying it is “working with the relevant regulatory authorities, and will continue to take action as needed to address these concerns appropriately going forward”.

Read: Bereaved by suicide: ‘Horrendous that he thought there was no other way out of the pain’

Read: Where’s the missing €15 million?… Criticism over shortfall in mental health spending

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Órla Ryan

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