Samaritans Radar

Samaritans Radar was an online app designed to offer people a second chance to see a tweet from someone they know who might be struggling to cope.

It was launched on 29 October 2014 and was suspended on 7 November 2014.

You can read our statements about the app on this page and read about the launch here.

Samaritans Radar updates

10 March 2015

Catherine Johnstone, Chief Executive at Samaritans, said: “Following the suspension of Samaritans Radar*, we can now confirm that the app has been closed permanently.

“The decision was made following concerns raised by Twitter users at the time of launch, regarding data protection and privacy issues.  Samaritans is an organisation which is built on our ability to listen and we take all feedback, both positive and challenging, very seriously.  We have ensured that any data associated with the app has been deleted and we have responded to all individual requests for information that we received. We want to thank everyone who provided us with feedback, including those who completed the survey which is now closed.

“We know that people often go online looking for support, as well as using it as an outlet to share their feelings.  This presents both new opportunities and challenges in reaching out to those individuals, and Samaritans remains firmly committed to providing the very best service for anyone who may need our support, whether on or offline.  We recognise that Samaritans Radar was not the right online tool to do this, but using what we have learnt and the feedback from the survey, we plan to develop and test new ways of supporting people online.”

*an online app designed to offer people a second chance to see a tweet from someone they know who might be struggling to cope

14 November

Following our announcement on 7 November to suspend Samaritans Radar, I would like to apologise for any stress caused to the users of Twitter. The intention behind the web based app was to give people a second chance to see a tweet from someone they know who might be struggling to cope. Samaritans has a long history of encouraging people to look out for one another and of finding innovative ways of encouraging people to talk about what is troubling them. However we need to think further about how we can take those principles and use them to help make the online environment safer for vulnerable people.

As a society we need to address the opportunities and challenges the online environment presents for supporting people and the role this work could play in ultimately reducing suicide. We've learned that we must consult even more widely than we have done in the development of Samaritans Radar and we will continue to respect and better understand the diversity of existing communities and users. To this end, we will be holding a series of consultation events as well as continuing to gather views via an online survey from as wide a range of people as possible.

I can also confirm that following the suspension of the web based app, we are ensuring that any data associated with the app will be deleted and we will be voluntarily responding to those individual requests concerning data in relation to the app.

It is also very important that our callers and anyone who might want to contact us knows that Samaritans provides a safe place where they can talk about whatever's getting to them. Our extraordinary volunteers are ordinary people, here round the clock, every single day, to listen whenever someone needs us. If you need to talk to us, please get in touch by calling 08457 90 90 90 (UK) 116 123 (ROI), emailing jo@samaritans.org, or visitingwww.samaritans.org to find details of the nearest branch.

7 November

Following the broad range of feedback and advice Samaritans has received since the launch of the Samaritans Radar app on 29 October 2014, including the serious concerns raised by some people with mental health conditions using Twitter, we have made the decision to suspend the application at this time for further consideration.

We care passionately about supporting vulnerable people in a range of ways, and know it is important we get Samaritans Radar right.

Our primary concern is for anyone who may be struggling to cope, including those with mental health conditions. We are very aware that the range of information and opinion, which is circulating about Samaritans Radar, has created concern and worry for some people and would like to apologise to anyone who has inadvertently been caused any distress. This was not our intention. However there is still an important need which we have identified to find ways to support vulnerable people online, including those young people the app was primarily aimed at. We would also like to recognise and thank those who have shown support for the app.

We will use the time we have now to engage in further dialogue with a range of partners, including in the mental health sector and beyond in order to evaluate the feedback and get further input. We will also be testing a number of potential changes and adaptations to the app to make it as safe and effective as possible for both subscribers and their followers.

Samaritans has a history of innovating to meet the challenges of providing a safe, relevant and effective service to all those we exist to support and we will continue to do this and learn from the work we do.

4 November

Joe Ferns, Executive Director of Policy, Research and Development at Samaritans, said:

“Since the launch of Samaritans Radar last week, we have been actively listening to both the positive comments about the App, as well as the concerns raised around data protection and privacy.

“We have taken the time to seek further legal advice on the issues raised. Our continuing view is that Samaritans Radar is compliant with the relevant data protection legislation for the following reasons:

  • We believe that Samaritans is neither the data controller or data processor of the information passing through the app
  • All information identified by the App is available on Twitter, in accordance with Twitter's T&Cs. The App does not process private tweets.
  • If Samaritans were deemed to be a data controller, given that vital interests are at stake, exemptions from data protection law are likely to apply

“Since Samaritans Radar was in development, we have continuously operated on the understanding that the App would be developed and improved based on user feedback. We would like to reassure subscribers that we will, of course, continue to apply this approach and are in discussions with the Information Commissioner’s Office, and will take on board any direction they give us.

“We condemn any behaviour which would constitute bullying or harassment of anyone using social media. If people experience this kind of behaviour as a result of Radar or their support for the App, we would encourage them to report this immediately to Twitter, who take this issue very seriously.

“We are entering into new territory with this App and understand that there are a wide variety of opinions. However, we strongly believe that it will help support people struggling to cope and ultimately save lives.”

2 November

Joe Ferns, Executive Director of Policy, Research and Development at Samaritans said: “At the heart of Samaritans’ work is the belief that ordinary people listening to the problems and feelings of one another can make a big difference to people struggling to cope. We know from research that vulnerable individuals go online to call for help, in the hope that someone will reach out to them, so we developed Samaritans Radar particularly for Twitter users who want to be able to support their friends.

The App has had a positive response so far, with over 3,000 people signed up as subscribers to date. Since launch, almost 20,000 people have mentioned the App, helping #samaritansradar trend on Twitter for two days. We will take on board any feedback we receive as we develop the App further and are taking very seriously the concerns raised by some Twitter users regarding possible data protection and privacy issues relating to the Application.

Samaritans Radar has been in development for over a year and has been tested with several different user groups who have contributed to its creation, as have academic experts on suicide through their research. In developing the App we have rigorously checked the functionality and approach taken, including an impact assessment against data protection and data processing principles.

We are looking into the details of the issues raised, including working with the relevant regulatory authorities and will continue to take action as needed to address these concerns appropriately going forward.”

31 October

We want to emphasise that Samaritans' Radar has been in development for well over a year and has been tested with several different user groups who have contributed to its creation, including young people with mental health problems, Samaritans' volunteers, social media platforms and other organisations.  We’ve also been working with academic experts from the University of Glasgow and the University of Cardiff’s School of Social Sciences, whose research on the use of suicidal language on online platforms has helped develop the App.

30 October

We have been watching the debate unfold on Twitter about the Samaritans Radar app and wanted to respond to the concerns some Twitter users have raised about certain issues relating to safety and privacy.

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.

We want to reassure Twitter users that Samaritans does not receive alerts about people’s Tweets. The only people who will be able to see the alerts, and the tweets flagged in them, are followers who would have received these Tweets in their current feed already.

Having heard people’s feedback since launch, we would like to make clear that the app has a whitelist function. This can be used by organisations and we are now extending this to individuals who would not like their Tweets to appear in Samaritans Radar alerts. 

It’s important to clarify that Samaritans Radar has been in development for well over a year and has been tested with several different user groups who have contributed to its creation, as have academic experts through their research. In developing the app we have rigorously checked the functionality and approach taken and believe that this app does not breach data protection legislation.  

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.

At the heart of Samaritans philosophy is the belief that ordinary people listening to the problems and feelings of one another can make a big difference to people struggling to cope. 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.

To add yourself to the Samaritans Radar whitelist, you can send a direct message on Twitter to @samaritans. We have enabled the function that users to direct message us on Twitter if we do not follow them. However, if you're experiencing problems, please email: radar@samaritans.org 

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