Twitter restores suicide prevention feature

Twitter has revamped its suicide prevention feature

After pressure from some users and user safety groups to remove it, Twitter has reinstated a feature that promotes suicide prevention hotlines and other safety resources to users looking for specific content.

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, Twitter’s head of trust and safety Ella Irwin confirmed the removal and called it temporary.

Twitter is “addressing relevancy, optimizing the size of message prompts and correcting outdated prompts,” Irwin told Reuters in an email. “We know they’re useful and it’s not our intention to cut them down forever.”

About 15 hours after the initial report, Musk, who initially did not respond to requests for comment, tweeted, “Wrong, it’s still there.” In response to criticism from Twitter users, he also tweeted, “Twitter does not prevent suicide.”

The feature, called #ThereIsHelp, places a banner at the top of search results for specific topics. It lists contacts for aid organizations in several countries dealing with mental health, HIV, vaccines, child sexual exploitation, 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 like “shtwt,” shorthand for “self-harm Twitter.”

It is not clear whether the feature has been restored for other categories. Some search queries that Twitter previously said triggered such as “#HIV” are missing the feature.

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

Twitter prohibits users from promoting self-harm, although user safety groups have criticized the company for allowing posts they say violate the policy.

On Saturday, tweets appeared showing graphic images of people cutting off their hands under banners in search of self-harm.

The disappearance of #ThereIsHelp has led some consumer safety groups and Twitter users to express concerns about the well-being of the platform’s vulnerable users.

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

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

She added, “Google provides highly relevant message prompts based on search terms that are always current and optimized for both mobile and web.”

Irliani Abdul Rahman, who sits on Twitter’s recently disbanded content advisory group, said the disappearance of #ThereIsHelp was “very disturbing” and that removing a feature entirely to restore it was unusual.

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