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On Twitter, Elon Musk removes a feature that prevents suicide: Report

For users looking up specific content, the function has recently recommended suicide prevention hotlines and other safety options.

Two persons with knowledge of the situation claim that Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter Inc., ordered the removal of a feature that pushed suicide prevention hotlines and other safety resources to users searching for specific material during the previous few days.

There hasn’t been any prior information about the feature, known as #ThereIsHelp, being removed. It had contacts for support groups for mental health, HIV, immunisations, child sexual exploitation, COVID-19, gender-based violence, natural catastrophes, and freedom of expression at the top of specialised searches in many different countries.

Elon Musk removes a feature that prevents suicide

Its removal might raise more questions about what will happen to Twitter’s most vulnerable users. Even though researchers and civil rights organizations have observed an increase in tweets with racial slurs and other hateful content, Musk has claimed that impressions, or views, of harmful content, have decreased since he took over in October and has tweeted graphs demonstrating a downward trend.

Requests for statements regarding the feature’s removal from Twitter and Musk went unanswered.

Both the Thai organisation iLaw and the Washington-based AIDS United, which was highlighted in the hashtag campaign #ThereIsHelp, told Reuters on Friday that they were surprised by the feature’s withdrawal.

A website that the Twitter feature connected to received, according to AIDS United, roughly 70 views per day up until December 18. It has received a total of 14 views since then.

Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network executive director Damar Juniarto tweeted on Friday about the lack of a feature and warned that “dumb acts” by the social media platform could force his organisation to stop using it.

Reuters was unable to determine why Musk would order the feature’s removal right away. The sources who knew of his choice refrained from disclosing their identities out of concern for reprisals. One of them said that #ThereIsHelp messages had been seen by millions of people.

The deletion of #ThereIsHelp, according to Giuliani Abdul Rahman, who was a member of a recently disbanded Twitter content advisory panel, was “very unnerving and profoundly disturbing.”

“Normally you would be working on it in parallel, not deleting it,” she noted, even if it were just temporarily removed to create room for upgrades.

Also Read | Elon Musk reinstates journalists’ Twitter accounts after hearing from the public

Internet firms like Twitter, Google, and Facebook have worked for years to point users to well-known resource providers like government hotlines when they believe someone may be in danger, in part owing to pressure from consumer safety groups.

According to company postings, Twitter debuted certain prompts around five years ago, and some of them were accessible in over 30 countries. Twitter stated that it had a duty to make sure customers could “reach and receive support on our service when they need it most” in one of its blog entries about the feature.

The tool was enhanced to provide details about natural catastrophe searches in Indonesia and Malaysia just after Musk purchased the business.

Prompts that had appeared in search results just a few days before, according to Alex Goldenberg, lead intelligence analyst at the nonprofit Network Contagion Research Institute, had disappeared by Thursday.

He and colleagues performed a study in August demonstrating that, compared to a year earlier, the number of monthly mentions on Twitter of specific phrases related to self-harm surged by almost 500%. Younger users were found to be particularly at risk when exposed to such information.

It would be extremely risky, according to Goldenberg, if this decision served as a sign that the administration no longer takes these problems seriously. It contradicts Musk’s prior statements that he will put child safety first.

Musk has condemned the previous owner’s handling of the matter and stated on Twitter that he wants to fight child porn. However, he has eliminated a sizable chunk of the teams responsible for handling potentially offensive content.

Also Read | Elon Musk’s Twitter discontinues the “Twitter for iPhone” and “Twitter for Android” device labels.

FAQs

Who ordered the removal of the suicide prevention feature?

Two persons with knowledge of the situation claim that Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter Inc., ordered the removal of a feature that pushed suicide prevention hotlines and other safety resources to users searching for specific material during the previous few days.

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