Thursday, 30 October 2014


This is the statement (as of 15:25 on 30/10/14) from Samaritans, regarding the controversy surrounding their new app, Samaritans Radar. 

"We have been watching the debate unfold on Twitter about the Samaritans Radar app and wanted to respond to the concerns some Twitter users have raised about certain issues relating to safety and privacy."
You do not "respond" to issues raised around safety and privacy, you act on them.

"We understand that there are some people who use Twitter as a broadcast platform to followers they don’t know personally, and others who use Twitter to communicate with friends. Samaritans Radar is aimed particularly at Twitter users who are more likely to use Twitter to keep in touch with friends and people they know."
Clearly Samaritans haven't realised this, but stating who you've aimed a product at does not mean that it will be used exclusively by your stated target demographic, and not abused in any way.

"We want to reassure Twitter users that Samaritans does not receive alerts about people’s Tweets. The only people who will be able to see the alerts, and the tweets flagged in them, are followers who would have received these Tweets in their current feed already."
For an organisation that makes a big deal of  'always being there' I would have thought that Samaritans would have recognised the time-sensitive nature of responses to mental health crisis points. Yes, the tweets would always be there, available to be read and responded to by trolls. But there's no time like the present for inflicting as much pain and damage as possible. What this app does is provide an alert service to abusers and trolls to allow them to home in on the most vulnerable at their most vulnerable time.

"Having heard people’s feedback since launch, we would like to make clear that the app has a whitelist function. This can be used by organisations and we are now extending this to individuals who would not like their Tweets to appear in Samaritans Radar alerts." 
Samaritans does not collect the alerts or tweets, but does collect a list of people who don't want to be included in their app.

"It’s important to clarify 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, as have academic experts through their research. In developing the app we have rigorously checked the functionality and approach taken and believe that this app does not breach data protection legislation."  

"There are a vast number of Tweets sent out every day, which have the potential to be missed. The aim of the app is to look for potentially worrying tweets from people talking about their problems with the hope that their followers will respond to their Tweets - which are already public – and which otherwise may be missed."
If this is the concern, then allow both sides to opt in. Treating those who suffer from mental health conditions as if they're to be nannied and looked after and looked out for without their consent is both patronising and disenfranchising. Yes, we should all be looking out for people who might be having a hard time - but there's a difference between that, and actively monitoring people without their knowledge. Give people an option. "Your friend Z would like to connect with you on Samaritans Radar. Are you happy with this, or shall we tell him you appreciate the gesture, but you'd rather not?".

"Those who sign up to the app don’t necessarily need to act on any of the alerts they receive, in the same way that people may not respond to a comment made in the physical world. However, we strongly believe people who have signed up to Samaritans Radar do truly want to be able to help their friends who may be struggling to cope."
What you believe and what is the case are two entirely separate things.

"At the heart of Samaritans philosophy 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. People often tell the world how they feel on social media and we believe the true benefit of talking through your problems is only achieved when someone who cares is listening."
For an organisation so hellbent on advocating the benefits of listening, Samaritans is making quite a point of sticking its fingers in its ears regarding concerns about its app.

"To add yourself to the Samaritans Radar whitelist, you can send a direct message on Twitter to @samaritans. We have disabled the function that prevents people from direct messaging us unless we are followers on Twitter." 
A) There is no such function.
B) As has always been the case on, you must be followed by the account you are attempting to DM. Unless Samaritans intends to follow every user on twitter to allow them to DM, this is a problem.
C) Why on earth should I have to DM a charity to stop them from including my tweets in their ill-thought-out app?


Sometimes, instead of stopping to help the guy who's been robbed and beaten, you should first chat to him a bit to establish how he would like you to help him.

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