By Kevin Lair
Senior Elm Writer
A suicide prevention organization called Samaritans recently published an app aimed at identifying and flagging tweets indicative of suicidal thoughts or otherwise alarming posts. The app, Samaritans Radar, flags disturbing posts and phrases such as “help me,” “hate myself,” and “depressed” and sends an email alert to the Tweeter’s friends. In addition to flagging the individual, the free UK-based app offers guidance and suggestions and will help contact any individual you are concerned about 24/7.
According to the official Samaritans Radar page, the motivation behind the app centers around the fact that “more people are using social media to talk about how they’re feeling, sometimes in the hope that someone will reach out. The app contains a special algorithm that looks for specific keywords and phrases that may indicate that someone is struggling to cope.”
In regards to privacy concerns, Samaritans stresses that their app will not share any personal details about you other than your Twitter handle and email, nor will they post from your account. There is no indication of your activating or using the app, so your followers will not know. If friends saw that they were being followed they may be less inclined to post their actual feelings, reducing the effectiveness of the app.
Samaritans acknowledges that the app is still in its infancy and prone to incorrectly identifying non-dangerous Tweets of sarcasm, jokes, or otherwise unintentional signals. For example, plenty of Twitter and Facebook users post statuses along the lines of “bored, needing someone to talk to,” and the app could flag such a post, taking it at its face value even if it was not intended as an actual cry for help. The problem with any form of social media posting is that it is left to interpretation and the true intent or feelings of the poster are unknown.
Nevertheless, this app is truly innovative and could save lives. According to a United Nations report released last month, someone in the world commits suicide every 40 seconds, totaling more than 800,000 last year. Unfortunately, stressful economic times such as the 2007-2008 Global Financial Crisis contribute to this high number of deaths. Suicide is a global disease, and everyone must play their part to look out for one another.
No one expects this app to stop all suicides or be the perfect cure for identifying individuals with suicidal tendencies, but it is surely a step in the right direction. As more and more people take to social media to post their feelings, and often to cry out for help, we need to respond in kind by listening and observing what we post.
As college students, we understand the tendency to post everything on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. If our friends and family are suffering from depression or have suicidal thoughts, they are likely to post their feelings online, alter their behavior or frequency online, or simply delete their accounts. All of these are warning signs that need to be taken seriously.
This innovative app has the potential to save lives but only if we participate in these efforts and pay attention to what our friends and family members are saying and doing. Just because a friend does not verbalize or post that they are depressed does not mean that everything is fine. Pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal cues. Be proactive and take care of the ones you care about. You may just save their life.
For more information on the app and how to download it, please visit www.samaritansradar.org.