The Samaritans Radar app – the problem is right there in the name.Posted: October 29, 2014
**This entry is about the Samaritans Twitter app and has brief references to stalking and suicide**
It’s always been assumed that in large organisations, the higher-ups don’t really know what the lower-downs are doing and decisions often get made that leaves those who do the work shaking their heads at what’s going on.
Full disclosure: I used to be a Samaritans volunteer. I worked on the phone line, the email and face to face. I did this for roughly three years. Samaritan volunteers get very good training on how to do their job.
Today the Samaritans released information about a new app – the Samaritans Radar. It’s designed to monitor the tweets from the people the app-user follows on Twitter and flags up any Tweets with specific key words and phrases that might be concerning, and reports them to the app-user. At first glance a nice way to make sure your friends are ok and to make sure you don’t miss any tweets from them that means they might be in trouble.
I am a former Samaritan volunteer and I do not like this app at all.
I will always defend Samaritan volunteers. They do amazing work and it’s the sort of thing that you really don’t know what it’s like until you do it. It isn’t easy, it takes a certain kind of person to be a Sam and you cannot do it to boost your own ego – you become very humbled very quickly. This is why I’ve come to the conclusion that there may have been little to no consultation with the volunteers before this app appeared.
Let’s look at it from the point of view not of the app-user, but the tweeter being monitored. The app itself is called the “Radar” app, and even in the name gives connotations of being watched, being monitored. How likely are you to tweet about your mental health problems if you know some of your followers would be alerted every time you did? Do you know all your followers? Personally? Are they all friends? What if your stalker was a follower? How would you feel knowing your every 3am mental health crisis tweet was being flagged to people who really don’t have your best interests at heart, to put it mildly? In this respect, this app is dangerous. It is terrifying to think that anyone can monitor your tweets, especially the ones that disclose you may be very vulnerable at that time.
From the perspective of an ex-volunteer, I find it baffling that the concept of choice has been completely taken away. Samaritans was always about choice. Choice to talk, choice to take action or not, even down to the choice to end your life or not. Sams never judged, they listened. This is the opposite of that. This takes away the choice of the tweeter to seek help themselves. This is so far away from the whole ethos of Samaritans, that we are there for people to come to us. While the app has no literal connection to the Samaritans service – it flags it up to the app-user, not to the Samaritans service directly – it still removes choice.
And the bottom line is, monitoring people’s tweets is just not a good idea. At all.
This is why I’ve come to the conclusion that the people who do the listening had very little to do with this. Because they would not have liked it. I will always stand up for Samaritan volunteers and the fact this app is doing something like this in their name makes me angry, and worried that it will effect what people think of the service. Samaritans are amazing people, please don’t let what’s happened today influence your opinion of the service they offer. The people in Samaritans who are responsible for developing this app NEED to read people’s reactions and they need to take swift action. The thought that this could damage their reputation breaks my heart. They need to fix this.
Please note that the Samaritans Radar app is not connected to the volunteers that man the phones 24 hours a day.
Please do not let the arrival of this app stop you from using the phone line to talk to a trained and experienced volunteer listener.
Samaritans is a 24-hour phone line for who are in crisis and need to talk. There are call charges but you can ask to be called back.
08457 90 90 90
Thank you to the people I follow on Twitter for identifying the ways this app can be very dangerous.
**Opinions stated in this blog are mine and do not represent the opinions of Samaritans or their volunteers**
(Blog updated to edit that the phone number is not free)