Elon Musk orders Twitter to remove suicide prevention feature

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.

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, Covid19, gender-based violence, natural disasters, and freedom of expression.

Its deletion may heighten 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.

Twitter and Musk did not respond to requests for comment on removing the feature.

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

Aids United said on a webpage that its associated Twitter feature had drawn about 70 views per day through December 18. Since then, it has racked up 14 views in total.

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

I am angry to find out that today Twitter has stopped #ThereIsHelp Directed search for freedom of expression in Indonesia (and globally?)

Another stupid decision after the dissolution of the Trust and Safety Council last week.@employee @employee moranweea https://t.co/WkoujDVfu4

– Damar Juniarto December 23, 2022

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Reuters was not immediately able to determine why Musk requested the feature be removed. The sources familiar with his decision declined to be named for fear of reprisals.

One said millions of people have experienced #ThereIsHelp messages.

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

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

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 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 that users can “access and receive our services when they need them most.”

Just as Musk bought the company, the feature has been expanded to display information related to natural disaster searches in Indonesia and Malaysia.

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,” said Goldenberg. “It runs counter to Musk’s previous commitments to prioritize children’s safety.”

Musk said he wanted to fight images of child abuse 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.

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