Samaritans’ new Radar app spots tweeters in mental distress

The Radar app is a new mental health tool from Samaritans. The charity is best known for lending a listening ear to people in emotional distress, but they also offer help via text and email, so an app was probably the next logical step. But rather than offering psychological support, it tracks the people users follow on Twitter, and sends an email notification if someone seems suicidal.

As the BBC reports, it does this using an algorithm which picks up on key phrases, including ‘hate myself’ and ‘help me’. People who sign up will get a message asking if their friend is OK, giving them the chance to see any concerning tweets they might have missed and offering guidance on how to reach out. It’s aimed at 18-35 year olds, and the Samaritans charity is working to extend the service to other social networks.

But is this a good thing? Although it will ‘learn’ more about how people use Twitter over time, at present the app can’t detect irony, so users risk being inundated with alerts that their friends are tweeting ‘I HATE MYSELF’ when the only thing wrong is a bad lunch choice and a flair for the dramatic. It does also feel a little bit like spyware, even if it is using public information.

And I certainly want to be able to post the occasional moody cryptic subtweet without alarming my followers (it’s the lifeblood of social media, after all). Plus, many of us don’t know the full names/addresses/personal details of most people we follow. So if someone’s in severe distress, it’s not clear what we can do but worry, and encourage them to seek help.

Then again, maybe that’s all we need to do. The internet can be a lonely place, and if this app makes online friends feel more connected and encourages us to check in and remind each other that someone cares, maybe life will be a little bit easier to cope with.

If you’re interested, you can find out more or download the app via the website. And if you or someone else needs help now, you can reach Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.

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Diane Shipley


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