Chief Twit Elon Musk DENIES shutting down Twitter suicide prevention feature – after story earlier in the week accused troubled social media giant of dumping it
- Musk denied a Reuters report which said Twitter removed its suicide prevention under his orders
- The report included a quote from Twitter’s head of trust and safety, who said the feature was ‘temporarily’ removed to make improvements
- Feature is known as #ThereIsHelp and directs users to support services if they search for terms linked to suicide and other issues
- Musk called the report about its removal ‘false’ and ‘fake news’
- Reuters then published another report that said the tool was reinstated after a backlash from organizations who were partnered with Twitter
Elon Musk has denied reports that Twitter removed its suicide prevention feature after the company’s head of trust said tool was ‘temporarily’ paused, triggering concern from campaigners.
Musk responded to a report by Reuters about the news with the tweet: ‘False, it is still there’.
Reuters published a story labeled as exclusive on Friday evening which said Twitter removed a feature which promotes suicide prevention hotlines and reported the move was ‘ordered by new owner Elon Musk’.
The feature is known as #ThereIsHelp and directs users to support services if they search for terms linked to suicide and other issues, including mental health, HIV, vaccines, child sexual exploitation, COVID-19, gender-based violence, natural disasters and freedom of expression.
The article cited sources ‘familiar with the matter’. Several organizations which were partnered with Twitter feature claimed the help prompts were no longer visible.
Sources told Reuters that the suicide prevention feature was removed under Musk’s direction. He dismissed the claim as ‘fake news’ and Reuters reported the feature has been reinstated
Musk replied to a Reuters tweet about the feature’s removal with: ‘False, it is still there’
After the story was published, Twitter head of trust and safety Ella Irwin told Reuters that ‘we have been fixing and revamping our prompts. They were just temporarily removed while we do that’.
‘We expect to have them back up next week,’ Irwin said.
About 15 hours after the initial report, Musk said ‘the [suicide prevention message] is still up’ and described the report as ‘fake news’.
Reuters said Musk hadn’t responded to its request for comments before the story was published.
The news agency then published another story on Saturday morning which said Twitter had restored the feature following its initial report.
Reuters published its story, labeled as exclusive, on December 23. The outlet said Musk didn’t respond to requests for comment
Musk responded on Twitter about 15 hours later, then Reuters reported the feature had been restored
Reuters reported the feature’s ‘elimination’ had come earlier this week.
Officials from various organizations which are promoted through the feature voiced concern about the situation and one said referrals to their website had dropped.
Eirliani Abdul Rahman, who had been on a recently dissolved Twitter content advisory group, said the disappearance of #ThereIsHelp was ‘extremely disconcerting and profoundly disturbing’.
Even if it was only temporarily removed to make way for improvements, ‘normally you would be working on it in parallel, not removing it’, she said.
Washington-based AIDS United, which was promoted in #ThereIsHelp, and iLaw, a Thai group mentioned for freedom of expression support, both told Reuters on Friday that the disappearance of the feature was a surprise to them.
Reuters said the tool was removed under Musk’s direction. The apparent pause to Twitter’s suicide prevention feature sparked concern among some organizations partnered with it
AIDS United said a webpage that the Twitter feature linked to attracted about 70 views a day until December 18. Since then, it has drawn 14 views in total.
Damar Juniarto, executive director at Twitter partner Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network, tweeted on Friday about the missing feature and said ‘stupid actions’ by the social media service could lead his organization to abandon it.
The sources who spoke to Reuters about Musk’s decision to order the removal of the feature declined to be named because they feared retaliation. One of them said millions of people had encountered #ThereIsHelp messages.
Twitter had launched some prompts about five years ago and some had been available in over 30 countries, according to company tweets. In one of its blog posts about the feature, Twitter had said it had responsibility to ensure users could ‘access and receive support on our service when they need it most’.
Alex Goldenberg, lead intelligence analyst at the non-profit Network Contagion Research Institute, said prompts that had shown in search results just days ago were no longer visible by Thursday.
He and colleagues in August published a study showing that monthly mentions on Twitter of some terms associated with self-harm increased by over 500% from about the year before, with younger users particularly at risk when seeing such content.
‘If this decision is emblematic of a policy change that they no longer take these issues seriously, that’s extraordinarily dangerous,’ Goldenberg said. ‘It runs counter Musk’s previous commitments to prioritize child safety.’
Musk has said he wants to combat child sexual abuse content on Twitter and has criticized the previous ownership’s handling of the issue. But he has cut large portions of the teams involved in dealing with potentially objectionable material.
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