Twitter has removed a feature that promoted suicide prevention hotlines and other safety resources for users searching for certain content in the last few days.
Two people familiar with the matter claim that Elon Musk, the new owner, ordered it. Ella Irwin is the Twitter trust and safety head. She stated, “we have been fixing and revamping our prompts. They were just temporarily removed while we do that.” She said, “We expect to have them back up next week.”
It was not reported previously that the #ThereIsHelp feature had been removed. It was at the top in searches for contacts for support organizations in many countries, including mental health, HIV/AIDS, vaccines, COVID-19, and gender-based violence.
The elimination of it raised concerns about the safety and well-being on Twitter for vulnerable users. Musk stated that views or impressions of harmful content have declined since October. He tweeted graphs showing this downward trend.
However, researchers and civil rights organizations have seen an increase in hateful tweets. Because of consumer safety pressure, many internet services like Twitter, Google, and Facebook have tried for years to direct users to trusted resource providers, like government hotlines, when they suspect that someone might be in danger.
Twitter’s Irwin said, “Google does really well with these in their search results and (we) are actually mirroring some of their approach with the changes we are making.” She said, “We know these prompts are useful in many cases and just want to make sure they are functioning properly and continue to be relevant.”
Eirliani Abdul Rahman was a member of a disbanded Twitter content advisory group. He said the disappearance of #ThereIsHelp was “extremely disconcerting and profoundly disturbing.” She said, “normally you would be working on it in parallel, not removing it.”
Washington-based AIDS United and iLaw, a Thai group that supports freedom of expression, told Reuters Friday that they were surprised by the disappearance.
AIDS United stated that the webpage linked to Twitter attracted approximately 70 views per day up until December 18. It has been viewed 14 times since then.
Damar Juniarto (executive director, Twitter partner Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network) tweeted Friday about the missing feature. He said that “stupid actions” by the social media services could cause his organization to lose it.
Because they feared retaliation, the sources who knew Musk’s decision to remove the feature from their computers declined to identify themselves. One source claimed that millions of people had seen #ThereIsHelp messages.
Twitter launched prompts around five years ago. Some were available in more than 30 countries, according to company tweets. Twitter stated that it was responsible for ensuring users could “access and receive support on our service when they need it most.”
Alex Goldenberg, the lead intelligence analyst for the non-profit Network Contagion Research Institute, said that prompts that appeared in search results only days ago are no longer visible.
In August, he and his colleagues published a study that showed that Twitter monthly mentions of self-harm-related terms rose by more than 500% compared to the previous year. Younger users are at the greatest risk from such content.
Goldenberg stated, “If this decision is emblematic of a policy change that they no longer take these issues seriously, that’s extraordinarily dangerous.” “It runs counter Musk’s previous commitments to prioritize child safety.”
Musk stated that he would like to fight child sexual abuse on Twitter and criticized the handling of the matter by the previous owners. He has also cut large parts of the teams that deal with objectionable material.