Twitter Removes Suicide Prevention Feature Following Elon Musk’s Order: Report

According to the report, Twitter removed a feature that promoted suicide prevention hotlines.

San Francisco:

Twitter Inc in recent days removed a feature that promoted suicide prevention hotlines and other safety resources to users who sought out certain content, according to two people familiar with the matter and said it was ordered by new owner Elon Musk.

The removal of the feature, known as #ThereIsHelp, has not been previously reported. It had shown at the top of specific searches contacts for support organizations in many countries related to mental health, HIV, vaccines, child sexual exploitation, COVID-19, gender-based violence, natural disasters and freedom of expression.

Its removal could raise concerns about the well-being of vulnerable users on Twitter. Musk has said that impressions or views about harmful content are declining since he took over in October and tweeted charts that show a downward trend, even as researchers and civil rights groups have observed an increase in tweets containing racial slurs and other hateful content.

Twitter and Musk did not respond to requests for comment on the feature’s removal.

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

AIDS United said a web page referenced by the Twitter feature was viewed about 70 times a day through Dec. 18. Since then it has had a total of 14 views.

Damar Juniarto, executive director of Twitter partner Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network, tweeted Friday about the missing feature, saying “stupid actions” by the social media service could cause his organization to shut down.

Reuters was not immediately able to determine why Musk would order the feature removed. The sources who knew of his decision declined to be named because they feared retaliation. One said that millions of people had come across #ThereIsHelp messages.

Eirliani Abdul Rahman, who was part of a recently disbanded Twitter content advisory group, said #ThereIsHelp’s disappearance was “extremely disturbing and deeply distressing”.

Even if it was only temporarily removed to make room for improvements, “usually you would work in parallel with it and not delete it,” she said.

Partly under pressure from consumer safety groups, internet services including Twitter, Google and Facebook have for years tried to direct users to known sources, such as government hotlines, when they suspect someone is in danger.

Twitter had launched some prompts about five years ago, and some were available in more than 30 countries, according to tweets from the company. In one of its blog posts about the feature, Twitter had said it had a responsibility to ensure that users “can access our service and get support when they need it most.”

Just when Musk bought the company, the feature expanded to display information related to searches for natural disasters in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Alex Goldenberg, chief intelligence analyst at the nonprofit Network Contagion Research Institute, said prompts that appeared in search results a few days ago were no longer visible Thursday.

He and his colleagues published a study in August that found that monthly Twitter mentions of certain terms related to self-harm have increased more than 500% from about the previous year, with younger users particularly at risk when seeing such content.

“If this decision is symbolic of a policy change where they no longer take these issues seriously, it is extremely dangerous,” Goldenberg said. “It goes against Musk’s previous commitments to put the safety of children first.”

Musk has said he wants to fight child pornography on Twitter and has criticized the previous owner’s handling of the problem. But he has cut out large portions of the teams involved in dealing with potentially offensive material.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is being published from a syndicated feed.)

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