Twitter reinstates suicide prevention feature on its platform after briefly removing it: Here’s what happened


Twitter Inc has reinstated a feature that promoted suicide prevention hotlines and other safety resources for users who viewed certain content, after coming under pressure from some users and consumer protection groups to remove it.

Reuters reported on Friday that the feature was removed a few days ago, citing two people familiar with the matter, who said the removal was ordered by the social media platform’s new owner, Elon Musk.

After the story was published, Ella Irwin, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, confirmed the removal and described it as temporary.

Twitter was “fixing relevancy, optimizing message size and fixing out-of-date signals,” Irwin said in an email to Reuters. “We know they are useful and it was not our intention to put them down permanently.”

About 15 hours after the initial report, Musk, who initially did not respond to requests for comment, tweeted “False, it’s still on.” In response to criticism by Twitter users, he also tweeted “Twitter doesn’t prevent suicide.”

The feature, known as #ThereIsHelp, places a banner at the top of search results for certain topics. It lists contacts for support organizations in several countries related to mental health, HIV, vaccines, child sexual abuse, COVID-19, gender-based violence, natural disasters, and freedom of expression.

As of Saturday, the banner returned to searches about suicide and domestic violence in several countries under terms such as “shtwt,” shorthand for “self-harm Twitter.”

It is not clear whether this facility was restored for other categories. The feature was not appearing for some search queries that Twitter previously said were relevant, such as “#HIV.”

Irwin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Twitter prohibits users from encouraging self-harm, although consumer protection groups have criticized the company for allowing posts that they say violate the policy.

On Saturday, tweets showing graphic images of people chopping off their hands appeared under banners calling for self-harm searches.

The disappearance of #ThereIsHelp prompted some consumer protection groups and Twitter users to express concern about the well-being of vulnerable users of the platform.

Due to pressure from such groups, Internet services including Twitter, Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook have for years tried to direct users to resource providers known to have security issues.

In his email on Friday, Twitter’s Irwin said, “Google does really well with these in their search results and (we) are actually mirroring some of their approach with the changes we’re making.”

“Google provides highly relevant message prompts based on search terms, they are always up to date and optimally optimized for both mobile and web,” he added.

Erliani Abdul Rahman, who was on the recently disbanded Twitter content advisory group, said the disappearance of #ThereIsHelp was “extremely troubling” and that it was unusual to completely remove a feature in order to improve it.

– Reuters

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