NEW YORK, USA – Twitter restored a feature that promoted suicide prevention hotlines and other safety resources to users looking up certain content, after coming under pressure from some users and consumer safety groups over its removal.
Reuters reported on Friday, December 23, that the feature was taken down a few days ago, citing two people familiar with the matter, who said the removal was ordered by the social media platform’s owner Elon Musk.
After publication of the story, Twitter head of trust and safety Ella Irwin confirmed the removal and called it temporary.
Twitter was “fixing relevance, optimizing the size of the message prompts and correcting outdated prompts,” Irwin said in an email to Reuters. “We know they are useful and our intent was not to have them down permanently.”
About 15 hours after the initial report, Musk, who did not initially respond to requests for comment, tweeted, “False, it is still there.” In response to criticism by Twitter users, he also tweeted, “Twitter doesn’t prevent suicide.”
The feature, known as #ThereIsHelp, placed a banner at the top of search results for certain topics. It listed 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.
By Saturday, the banner returned to searches about suicide and domestic violence in multiple countries under terms like “shtwt,” shorthand for “self-harm Twitter.”
Whether the feature had been restored for other categories was not clear. The feature was not appearing for some search queries that Twitter has previously said triggered it, such as “#HIV.”
Irwin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
Twitter bans users from encouraging self-harm, though consumer safety groups have criticized the company for allowing posts that they say violate the policy.
On Saturday, tweets showing graphic imagery of people cutting their arms appeared beneath banners on searches for self-harm.
The disappearance of #ThereIsHelp had led some consumer safety groups and Twitter users to express concerns about the well-being of vulnerable users of the platform.
In part due to pressure from consumer safety groups, internet services including Twitter, Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook have for years tried to direct users to well-known resource providers such as government hotlines when they suspect someone may be in danger of harming themselves or others.
In her email, 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 are making.”
She added, “We know these prompts are useful in many cases and just want to make sure they are functioning properly and continue to be relevant.”
Eirliani Abdul Rahman, who had been on a recently dissolved Twitter content advisory group, said the disappearance of #ThereIsHelp was “extremely disconcerting and profoundly disturbing.”
Even if it was only temporarily removed to make way for improvements, “normally you would be working on it in parallel, not removing it,” she said. – Rappler.com