Samaritans Radar: app scans Twitter for suicidal thoughts

New app searches for key phrases in tweets in effort to turn the social network into a safety net

Samaritans Radar
(Image credit: Samaritans)

Suicide-prevention charity Samaritans has released a new web-based Twitter app to help users of the social network monitor their friends' updates for signs of depression or suicidal thoughts.

The app, Samaritans Radar, connects with users' Twitter accounts to monitor for updates that could potentially indicate distress.

The app uses an algorithm to search for keywords and phrases including "tired of being alone", "hate myself", "depressed", "help me" and "need someone to talk to". If it identifies any of these words or phrases in a message, it will send an email alert to the person who has signed up for the service.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Samaritans notes that the app cannot distinguish between serious updates and humorous or frivolous ones, so human scrutiny is needed to accurately identify people who are in a state of emotional distress. It says the aim of the app is to turn a "social network into a safety net".

On its homepage, Samaritans concedes that the Radar app can only help to identify problems rather than being able to assist with them, but it adds: "We believe that people who voluntarily sign up for Samaritans Radar genuinely care about the wellbeing of their Twitter friends and will take action should they receive an alert."

Joe Ferns, executive director of policy, research and development at Samaritans, told the BBC that the app was not a tool for secretly spying on people. "Radar is only picking up tweets that are public, giving you an opportunity to see tweets that you would have seen anyway," he said.

"But imagine that a friend had posted something in the early hours of the morning, you're on the way to work or college and your Twitter feed is full of messages that are arguably less important - Samaritans Radar gives you the opportunity to see that tweet again and have it highlighted to you.

"It's not looking over your shoulder, it's not looking anything that's private, it's just giving you the opportunity to see something and act on it."

[H5]Using the Samaritans Radar app[H5]

To sign up to the tool in order to keep track of Twitter friends' updates you can do so at the Samaritans Radar site. It is also possible to deactivate the service.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.