Exclusive-Twitter removes suicide prevention feature, says it’s under renovation

Written by Paresh Dev, Fanny Botkin, and Sheila Dang

(Reuters) – Twitter removed a feature in the past few days that promoted suicide prevention hotlines and other safety resources for users searching for specific content, according to two people familiar with the matter who said it was ordered by new owner Elon Musk.

After this story was published, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, told Reuters in an email, “We’ve fixed and renewed our claims. They’ve been temporarily removed while we do.”

“We expect to have her back next week,” she said.

The removal of the item, known as #ThereIsHelp, was not previously reported. It showed at the top of specific searches contacts of support organizations in many countries related to mental health, HIV, vaccines, pedophilia, COVID-19, gender-based violence, natural disasters, and freedom of expression.

Its removal raised concerns about the welfare of vulnerable Twitter users. Impressions, or views, of harmful content have been declining since he took power in October, Musk said, and posted graphs on Twitter showing a downward trend, even as researchers and civil rights groups tracked an increase in tweets containing racial slurs and offensive content. another hate.

In part due to pressure from consumer safety groups, Internet services including Twitter, Google and Facebook have tried for years to direct users to well-known resource providers such as government hotlines when they suspect someone may be in danger.

Twitter’s Irwin said in her email: “Google is doing really well with these results in search results and (we’re) already reflecting some of their approach with the changes we’re making.”

She added, “We know these prompts are useful in a lot of cases and we just want to make sure they work properly and remain relevant.”

Irliani Abdurrahman, who was a member of a recently disbanded Twitter content advisory group, said the disappearance of #ThereIsHelp was “very disturbing, very disturbing”.

Even if it is removed only temporarily to make room for improvements, she said, “you usually work on it in parallel, not remove it.”

Washington-based United AIDS, which was promoted in #ThereIsHelp, and iLaw, a Thai group purportedly supporting free speech, told Reuters on Friday that the feature’s disappearance came as a surprise to them.

AIDS United said a page it linked to on Twitter had attracted about 70 views a day up to Dec. 18 and since then had seen a total of 14.

Twitter partner Damar Junyarto, CEO of Southeast Asia Network for Freedom of Expression, tweeted on Friday about the missing feature and said “stupid actions” by the social media service could lead his organization to abandon it.

The sources familiar with Musk’s decision to remove the tag declined to be named for fear of retaliation. One said millions of people have experienced #ThereIsHelp messages.

Twitter made some claims about five years ago and some of them were available in more than 30 countries, according to the company’s tweets. In one of its blog posts about the feature, Twitter said it has a responsibility to ensure users can “access and receive our services when they need them most.”

Claims that appeared in search results just days earlier were no longer visible by Thursday, said Alex Goldenberg, a senior intelligence analyst at the nonprofit Network Contagion Research Institute.

In August he and his colleagues published a study showing that monthly mentions on Twitter of some terms associated with self-harm increased by more than 500% over the previous year, with younger users particularly at risk when viewing such content.

“If this decision is symbolic of a policy change that no longer takes these issues seriously, then this is extremely dangerous,” Goldenberg said. “It runs counter to Musk’s previous commitments to prioritize children’s safety.”

Musk said he wants to fight pedophilia content on Twitter and criticized the previous ownership’s handling of the issue. But he cut large portions of the teams involved in handling potentially objectionable material.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave, Fanny Botkin and Sheila Dang; Editing by Kenneth Lee and Daniel Wallis)

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