SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 24 — Twitter Inc in recent days removed a feature that promoted suicide prevention hotlines and other safety resources to users viewing certain content, according to two people familiar with the matter who said it ordered the new owner is Elon Musk. .
After this story was published, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, told Reuters in an email that we were “fixing and revamping our tips. They were temporarily removed while we were doing that.”
“We expect them to be back next week,” she said.
The removal of the feature, called #ThereIsHelp, was not previously reported. At the top of the specific search were 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 led to increased concerns about the welfare of vulnerable users on Twitter. Musk has said views or opinions on harmful content have been declining since he took over in October and has tweeted graphs showing a downward trend, even as researchers and civil rights groups have increased on tracking the number of tweets with racial slurs and other hateful content.
Partly due to pressure from consumer safety groups, internet services including Twitter, Google and Facebook have tried for years to direct users to known resource providers such as government hotlines when they suspect someone may be in danger.
In his email, Twitter’s Irwin said, “Google does very well with these in their search results and (we’re) mirroring some of their approach with the changes we’re making.”
She added, “We know these tips are useful in many situations and we want to make sure they are working properly and continue to be relevant.”
Eirliani Abdul Rahman, who was on a recently disbanded Twitter content advisory group, said the cancellation of #ThereIsHelp was “deeply troubling and deeply troubling”.
Even if it was only temporarily removed to make way for improvements, “usually you’d be working on it in parallel, not removing it,” she said.
Washington-based AIDS United, which promoted #ThereIsHelp, and iLaw, a Thai group noted for its advocacy of freedom of speech, both told Reuters yesterday that they were surprised by the cancellation of the feature.
AIDS United said on a web page that attracted the Twitter feature linked to about 70 views per day until December 18. Since then, he has drawn a total of 14 scenes.
Damar Juniarto, executive director at Twitter partner Freedom of Expression Network Southeast Asia, tweeted yesterday about the missing feature and said that “stupid actions” by the social media service could lead his organization to abandon it.
The sources with knowledge of Musk’s decision to order the removal of the feature declined to be named because they feared it was in advance. One of them said that millions of people have turned to #ThereIsHelp messages.
Twitter launched some tips about five years ago and some of them were available in more than 30 countries, according to the company’s tweets. In one of its blog posts about the feature, Twitter said it had a responsibility to ensure users could “access and support our service when they need it most.”
Alex Goldenberg, chief intelligence analyst at the nonprofit Network Disease Research Institute, said that clues that showed up in search results just days ago were no longer visible by Thursday.
He and his colleagues published a study in August showing that monthly mentions on Twitter of certain terms related to self-harm increased by more than 500 percent from the previous year, with younger users particularly at risk when they see such a matter.
“If this decision is an example of a policy change that they no longer take these issues seriously, that’s extremely dangerous,” Goldenberg said. “It runs counter to Musk’s previous promises to prioritize children’s safety.”
Musk has said he wants to address the issue of child sexual abuse on Twitter and has criticized previous ownership’s handling of the issue. But he has cut large sections of staff to deal with potentially inappropriate material. ― Reuters
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