The Samaritans has launched a new Twitter app that enables users to monitor the accounts of their friends for distressing messages and offer guidance supplied by the charity.
Called Samaritans Radar, the new web app is activated by visiting the Radar website and, once linked to your account, will send you alerts when someone you follow on Twitter posts something deemed worrying.
This is done by Samaritans’ specially-created algorithm, or software, that identifies words and phrases that could suggest depression or suicidal thoughts.
The app will look out for phrases including “kill myself”, “I want to die”, and “despair”.
But it will also pick out slightly more ambiguous terms like “I want to sleep and never wake up” and “I’m worthless”.
Joe Ferns, executive director of policy, research and development at Samaritans, said: “Social media has changed how we talk to each other. It has created a dis-inhibition effect that means people are being more honest online.
“We know that people struggling to cope often go online looking for support, however, there is still so much we need to learn about why this happens and how we can make the online environment safer for vulnerable people.”
After activation, users will receive an alert via email when a potentially worrying tweet is spotted. Once a user has logged in, they will be able to see the tweet and confirm whether or not it is a potential worry.
Samaritans say this verification process exists as “you know your friends better than anyone else”, but also to help tighten up the computer algorithm used to monitor keywords.
If a user confirms that a tweet is worrying, information and guidance on how to approach the poster and talk to them is sent out. The advice will include tips on how to introduce the idea of contacting Samaritans, but the charity confirmed that they would not get involved unless requested to do so by those involved.
Samaritans confirmed that the app looks for keywords and phrases found as part of a study on suicide websites, and the created software will continue to evolve through user interaction and the verification process.
Anyone with a Twitter account can activate Samaritans Radar by visiting the website and signing into Twitter and providing an email address for alerts to be sent to.