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Killing with Kindness; #SamaritansRadar and paternalistic abelism

Please be aware this post discusses suicide, harassment, and stalking.

The instant I heard about the Samaritans radar scheme I was truly amazed it had ever been considered a good idea. The issues were obvious, and a quick look at twitter confirmed that I was not alone in my concerns. I was unable to understand how the app fitted with the ethos of Samaritans, to listen without judgement or intervention. It has always been one of its core values that it does not exist to talk people out of suicide. It listens, nothing more, in a world where listening can be rare and saves lives. There is an excellent post here by a former Sam which explores their reservations in full. A comment under the post by  @elphiemcdork caught my eye.

The app was designed by a Samaritans volunteer, tested by other Samaritans volunteer, and trialled by lots of people before the national organisation agreed to take it on and release it. My understanding is that it is designed to avoid those horrible occasions when people die and, when their friends look back at their communications, they realise they were trying to ask for help but never got it.

If this is the case then Samaritans seem to have forgotten why they exist, and explains why they could produce something a ride roughshod over the concerns of so many people with mental health issues. Hard truth time, people kill themselves, the impact this may, or may not have, on those left behind should not be of any concern to an organisation who are supposedly concerned with supporting those who are contemplating deliberate self harm. It is very close to using guilt to tell people not to commit suicide, which I hope all Sam volunteers are trained not to do. There is also an exceptionally worrying undercurrent of “suicide as a cry for help” in the quote. The idea that someone is “asking” for help on twitter speaks to a lack of understanding of the medium that I will return to.It is very disturbing however to see Samaritans suggesting that tweets about suicide were actually a look for attention, and if only the person who sent them had got the attention, then they might have changed their mind. This completely contradicts the Samaritans  own advice to the media about reporting suicide. 

3. Avoid over-simplification

Approximately 90 per cent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health problem at the time of death.

  • Over-simplification of the causes or perceived ‘triggers’ for a suicide can be misleading and is unlikely to reflect accurately the complexity of suicide.For example, avoid the suggestion that a single incident, such as loss of a job, relationship breakdown or bereavement, was the cause.

The Samaritans would do well to read their own advice, since with Samaritans Radar they seem to be suggesting that suicide can be avoided by the easy method of sending a quick DM saying are you ok.

I mentioned already the total lack of understanding of twitter that Samaritans seem to have, despite their claims to have tested the app widely before releasing it. Their press release of today takes a very condescending tone, which I will break down into several sections.

Pesky Social Justice Warriors

We understand that there are some people who use Twitter as a broadcast platform to followers they don’t know personally, and others who use Twitter to communicate with friends. Samaritans Radar is aimed particularly at Twitter users who are more likely to use Twitter to keep in touch with friends and people they know.

The idea there are some of use who use twitter as a “broadcast” platform and they are causing all the problems is an interesting one to say the list. Apparently we don’t have friends on twitter, it is simply a way we “promote our brand” as we broadcast our thoughts. Proper Twitter users only talk to people they have vetted, and have met on at least three occasions in the presence of a chaperone and responsible adult.

I am not sure where Samaritans got their idea from about how people use twitter, but newsflash, it works as a medium because you can communicate with people all over the world. Some of these become friends, even though you will never meet. It is not the ordinary people versus “brand” people on twitter, every twitter user on signing up is encouraged to follow people they will never meet, it is pretty much the point of Twitter. To believe that somehow these are not real relationships, because you do not fit some Nineteenth century notion of friendship is perhaps part of why Samaritans have dropped the ball so spectacularly here. There is no right or wrong way to use twitter, but from the moment you join you are encouraged to “connect with the world”,to broadcast to those you will never meet, and to follow strangers.

Trolls and Stalkers

It seems unbelievable that in the current climate that Samaritans have missed that people use the internet for nefarious purposes. Again from their Samaritans Radar update.

There are a vast number of Tweets sent out every day, which have the potential to be missed. The aim of the app is to look for potentially worrying tweets from people talking about their problems with the hope that their followers will respond to their Tweets – which are already public – and which otherwise may be missed. Those who sign up to the app don’t necessarily need to act on any of the alerts they receive, in the same way that people may not respond to a comment made in the physical world. However, we strongly believe people who have signed up to Samaritans Radar do truly want to be able to help their friends who may be struggling to cope.

Well that’s OK then, they strongly believe that only those who want to help will sign up to the app. I wonder if they are interested in these shares in London Bridge I am selling? Of course I should declare an interest here, the people who stalked me, who drove me to contemplating suicide used my twitter to get information about me. They then used that information to make various false reports to various official bodies about me. An app which made this easier for them would have been the first thing they would have signed up for. Even this week I have had the ever lovely Helen Lewis using my history of child sexual abuse to try to trigger me. I can think of any number of people who would sign up to this app just to get an alert of when I was low so they could pounce. This morning I woke up to someone telling me to overdose, this is the reality of twitter, a reality that Samaritans are ignoring. It speaks volumes that people were originally told to lock their accounts, the perennial advice of the privileged to those who are struggling with online abuse.

You are doing your breakdown wrong

People often tell the world how they feel on social media and we believe the true benefit of talking through your problems is only achieved when someone who cares is listening.

Samaritans may well be right, the benefit of talking through your problems may come when someone is listening. However twitter is not a chat room, despite the fact it can function as one at times. It is, as it says on the tin, a micro blogging platform. People use twitter in any number of ways, and often this is to simply vent. I say simply but of course releasing how you are feeling is as valid as sitting down in a nice middle class counselling room and exploring your feelings. Many people with mental health issues use twitter to express their feelings, it is a vital release and not lesser than using it in a Samaritans approved manner. The undercurrent of disablism in the way Samaritans have approached this has also been exceptionally worrying. All of the complaints would have been avoided if they had produced an app that people with mental health issues could sign up to, giving permission for alerts to be sent to selected people. The app however is based on the idea that the well, the non disabled, have a better understanding and ability to know what is right than those with disabilities. It is based on the premise of rescue, of some superior class of non disabled, sane people, being trusted where those of us with mental health issues cannot be.

There is an excellent form letter to send to Samaritans here by @aimsetc

Latent existence explores the privacy and consent issues throughly here 

A very good post on the data protection implications here 

The corporatisation of charity, and the power of the marketing men over so many aspects of our lives is perhaps a post for another time. I will briefly say that from start to finish Samaritans have shown themselves to be high-handed, condescending and far too much in love with their new toy. The desire to help those with mental health issues does not give anyone a free pass. It may have been coined for a very different situation but I cannot help thinking of the #rightsnotrescue hashtag, that’s all people with mental health problems are asking for, and they are being ignored.






7 comments on “Killing with Kindness; #SamaritansRadar and paternalistic abelism

  1. Pingback: Reasons to stay under the #SamaritansRadar | Valery North - Writer

  2. Wickedjulia
    October 31, 2014

    You are absolutely right, designers need to stop pretending that trolling isn’t a major pastime on the internet for the sub-human set. They need to have someone thinking like a predator to tell them exactly how their product might be perverted so they can make better and safer products. This unicorns and rainbows bullshit is getting old.

    Speaking of the sub human set, anyone who deliberately tries to trigger a survivor for whatever reason should be out fucking trolls. Big, gnarly, wart-covered trolls. Think Grendel.


    • jemima2013
      October 31, 2014

      Yeah, this is the worst kind of isnt the world just full of unicorns shitting rainbows well intentioned rubbish. Also I think the press releases stink of oh no “young people” use something, SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!


  3. Wickedjulia
    November 3, 2014

    That’s why I said, run it past someone who studies stalking behavior and ask the question “Tell me how this app could be used to fuck people up?” If it’s like a game, no problem. If it allows a stranger to track your movements without your consent or even knowledge, BIG PROBLEM.


  4. Pingback: #SamaritansRadar: Link collection | Musings, Ramblings and Reflections

  5. Pingback: The familiar and the other | Sometimes, it's just a cigar

  6. Pingback: So, that thing about consent you like so much…. | Sometimes, it's just a cigar

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This entry was posted on October 30, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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