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Elon Musk orders removal of suicide prevention feature from Twitter, sources say

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Twitter in recent days removed a feature that promoted suicide prevention hotlines and other safety features for users looking for certain content, according to two people familiar with the matter who said it was commissioned by new owner Elon Musk. (Ruvic Data, Illustration/Reuters)

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SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter in recent days removed a feature that promoted suicide prevention hotlines and other safety features for users looking for certain content, according to two people familiar with the matter who said it was commissioned by new owner Elon Musk. .

The removal of the feature, known as #ThereIsHelp, was not previously reported. It had shown at the top of specific searches contacts for support organizations in many countries related to mental health, HIV, vaccines, child sexual exploitation, COVID-19, gender-based violence, natural disasters and freedom of expression.

Its removal could raise concerns about the well-being of vulnerable users on Twitter. Musk said impressions, or views, of harmful content had been declining since he took office in October and tweeted graphs showing a downward trend, even as researchers and civil rights groups tracked an increase in tweets with racial slurs and other hateful content.

Twitter and Musk did not respond to requests for comment on the feature’s removal.

Washington-based AIDS United, which was promoted on #ThereIsHelp, and iLaw, a Thai group cited for its support of free speech, told Reuters on Friday that the feature’s disappearance came as a surprise to them.

AIDS United said a web page linked to the Twitter feature drew about 70 views a day through Dec. 18. It has since attracted 14 total views.

Damar Juniarto, executive director of Freedom of Expression Network, Twitter’s partner in Southeast Asia, tweeted on Friday about the missing feature and said “stupid actions” by the social media service could lead his organization to abandon it.

Reuters could not immediately establish why Musk would order the feature’s removal. Sources with knowledge of his decision declined to be identified because they feared retaliation. One said that millions of people have encountered #ThereIsHelp messages.

Eirliani Abdul Rahman, who was part of a recently disbanded Twitter content advisory group, said the disappearance of #ThereIsHelp was “extremely baffling and deeply disturbing”.

Even if it was only temporarily removed to make room for improvements, “normally you would be working on it in parallel, not removing it,” she said.

Partly due to pressure from consumer safety groups, internet services including Twitter, Google and Facebook have for years tried to direct users to providers of well-known resources, such as government hotlines, when they suspect someone might be in danger. .

Twitter released some prompts about five years ago and some were available in more than 30 countries, according to tweets from the company. In one of its blog posts about the feature, Twitter said it had a responsibility to ensure users could “access and receive support on our service when they need it most”.

Once Musk bought the company, the feature expanded to show information related to searches for natural disasters in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Alex Goldenberg, chief intelligence analyst at the nonprofit Network Contagion Research Institute, said the prompts displayed in search results just a few days ago were no longer visible on Thursday.

He and his colleagues in August published a study showing that monthly mentions on Twitter of some terms associated with self-harm increased by more than 500% from the previous year, with younger users particularly at risk for seeing such content.

“If this decision is emblematic of a policy shift that they no longer take these issues seriously, that is extraordinarily dangerous,” Goldenberg said. “This goes against Musk’s past commitments to prioritize child safety.”

Musk has said he wants to tackle child pornography on Twitter and has criticized the previous owner’s handling of the issue. But he cut most of the staff involved in handling potentially objectionable material.

suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call 988 to connect with the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline./p>

Crisis Hotlines

  • Huntsman Mental Health Institute Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • SafeUT Crisis Line: 833-372-3388
  • 988 Suicide and LifeLine Crisis in 988
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ Teens: 1-866-488-7386

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