Content note: this post makes reference to mental ill health and suicide
This is a note to everyone who follows me on Twitter, as well as anyone who might be thinking about installing the #SamaritansRadar app, as well as the Samaritans themselves. I do not consent to you using it. Please don’t install it. And if you want to use it, please unfollow me.
I understand the ethos behind the app, and I think ultimately it’s a good one. It’s just been executed absolutely horribly. What the app does is allow people to monitor you, without your consent, to receive a notification if you tweet certain keywords which might flag up you’re low. This sounds all right in theory, until you realise that not everyone is going to be operating from a position of good faith, not everybody will be keeping an eye on you because they care about you and want you to be all right. Trolling is rife. Trolls like telling suicidal people to kill themselves, and like to attack people at their weakest. What the Samaritans Radar app does is make this far, far easier. No longer do they need to take the time and effort to timeline-stalk, to scroll through every one of your tweets to find an opportunity to pounce. The Samaritans have unwittingly automated the process, giving a handy notification when one of their victims is down.
What I’ve always loved about the Samaritans is they are 100% there for people in times of need. When you’re in the position where you just have to talk to somebody, they’re always there, at the end of the phone, ready to talk to you. It is centred on the person who needs them, and on that person’s terms. The Radar app is quite the opposite of this. This is sad, because it could so easily work the other way around. Why not set it on the person’s terms? If somebody feels like they need others to keep an eye out for them, let them install an app which will notify others–perhaps selected trusted contacts–that they might need a kind word, a reminder that they’re loved and appreciated and they’re a good person.
As I said, I understand the ethos. Sometimes we find it hard to ask for help, and when you’re in crisis you might feel alone. But others monitoring you without your consent isn’t the way forward. I’ve included links at the bottom of this post which explain, from all angles, why this app is a very bad thing.
But please, please, if you use the app, don’t monitor me. I do not consent. I’d like to see the app pulled, and I will donate money to the Samaritans if they do so, because I believe in the work they do, and I also believe there are better solutions to this problem that they could put the money towards. At the moment, I can’t in good conscience give money towards funding an app which I believe to be fundamentally flawed and could further abuse of mentally ill people. I truly hope the Samaritans do what they do best, and listen.
On “Samaritans Radar” (yetanotherlefty)
Email to Samaritans about Radar (Queer Blue Water)
The Samaritans and the Panopticon Society (hundhaus)
Samaritans Radar and Twitter’s Public Problem (a latent existence)
UPDATE: 30/10/14 The Samaritans have announced you can opt out of the app. Unfortunately, the only way to do that is by sending them a direct message on Twitter. And you can only send them a DM if they’re following you. So that’s about as much use as a chocolate strap-on.
UPDATE 2 (30 mins later) I have publicly said I will volunteer to work with the Samaritans to avoid problems like this again. I feel it’s relevant to attach my commitment to this post. Tweets here 1 2 3
UPDATE 3 (~6pm) Some people have been using this workaround to DM the Samaritans. I’ve tried it, and it hasn’t worked yet; I’ll update again if it does.
UPDATE 4 (6.42pm) The workaround works, use it if you want to opt out. I do believe this should be an opt-in rather than opt-out system, though.
UPDATE 5 (05/11/14) The Samaritans have responded to data protection challenges to the app, saying they have no control over the data. However, this has already been questioned, and there may be a precedent for the Samaritans being data controller. Even if it is 100% above board, it doesn’t make it in any way desirable.
UPDATE 6 (07/11/14) Samaritans Radar has been suspended. They will be looking into changes to the app.