What is it?
Samaritans Radar is a new app from the suicide prevention charity that notifies Twitter users when friends post messages that might signal emotional distress.
People who sign up to the app, which was created by the digital agency Jam, will receive an email when someone they know sends a tweet containing certain key words and phrases. The charity says this gives the friend a chance to see "potentially worrying" tweets that they might otherwise have missed, and the email contains advice on how they can provide support. The charity also has its own arrangement with Twitter whereby people who post this type of message are referred to its helpline service.
The charity has published a video online, aimed at the campaign’s target audience of 18 to 35-year-olds. It features a young man out with a group of his friends, some of whom ask him for help with problems such as talking to members of the opposite sex or or finding somewhere to crash for the night. Then the film cuts to a friend who is sitting alone and a text-style message flashes up saying "not everyone who calls for help does it out loud". The man sits with his friend and asks him what is wrong with him, and he starts to open up about his feelings.
Why are they doing it?
Joe Ferns, executive director of policy, research & development at Samaritans, says that people struggling to cope often look for support online. He says that if support organisations such as Samaritans do not recognise this they "run the risk of shutting these discussions down and driving them underground". Ferns says he hopes the app will encourage people to "look out for one another online, helping them to reach out and offer support". The charity says research shows that Twitter is often used for releasing emotional stress, and that the things people post on social media are often a good indicator of the actions they will carry out in the real world.
Has it been covered in the media?
What has the response been like so far?
The app has received a mixed reaction on Twitter, with some users voicing concerns about privacy. But Samaritans has responded in a statement on its website, as well as holding a Twitter chat on the topic – it is promoting the fact that users can join a whitelist, which means their tweets will not trigger emails to friends. The charity admits the app is still in its early stages and the algorithm it uses to detect "worrying" tweets will become more sophisticated over time.
Third Sector verdict
Although the online response to the app shows that it won’t appeal to everyone, Samaritans should be applauded for offering a new response to the difficult issue of how to support vulnerable people online. An important debate has been generated about how best to do this. The campaign also encourages young people to look out for friends who might need support both on and offline, which can only be a good thing.