My friend James (who like myself is a mentally ill person) here imagines what might have happened at The Samaritans when they came up with the idea for “Samaritans Radar” – an app that alerts the user if the people they follow on twitter appear to be having a hard time with their mental health: without the knowledge or consent of those users.
I’d like to have been in that meeting: SamaritansRadar edition.
– “So we’ve got this idea where an algorithm sends alerts to followers based on the content of their targets Tweets. It essentially looks for any people who might be struggling to cope and sends notifications to their followers letting them know that.”
– “Right, so it searches for arbitrary phrases, removes them from any sort of context and then immediately alerts a load of people that the person is dangerously unhinged? OK. I like it. How do people sign up?”
– “That’s the easy bit! You just install the app and it will immediately and anonymously start tracking your targets’ Tweets.”
– “No, how do you sign up to be followed? You know, to give consent to have people following you like this.”
– “Oh, you don’t. But I can’t imagine any situation where someone in a really bad place wouldn’t love to have everything they say broadcast to an unknown and unknowable audience of literally anyone who wanted to follow them.”
– “You can’t? Because I’m also thinking that this app would be great for stalkers to know when their victims are at their most vulnerable. And even if it weren’t, it’s still meaning that people with mental health issues can’t Tweet anything without having to constantly worry about being inundated by well-meaning but condescending helpers who can’t distinguish sarcasm from a legitimate cry for help. In fact I would go so far as to say there is very little actually going for this app.”
– “When you sign up there’s an option to post an annoying little Tweet about how noble and amazing you are for spying on your friends?”
– “I want a working copy of it by Friday.” ”
There’s much more to say,of course, and I’d advice people to also read this from QueerBlueWater and this from LatentExistence and I may yet write something myself. Why? Because every mentally ill twitter-user I know is absolutely TERRIFIED of the possible consequences of this reckless and ill-thought-out app from The Samaritans. Remember guys, you’re supposed to be one our side offering nonjudgemental help *as and when we ask for it*, not harming us so that our followers can feel good about invading our privacy.
EDITED TO ADD: read this by emsy as well