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Risks in Using Social Media to Spot Signs of Mental Distress

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/27/technology/risks-in-using-social-posts-to-spot-signs-of-distress.html?_r=0

The Samaritans, a well-known suicide-prevention group in Britain, recently introduced a free web app that would alert users whenever someone they followed on Twitter posted worrisome phrases like “tired of being alone” or “hate myself.”

A week after the app was introduced on its website, more than 4,000 people had activated it, the Samaritans said, and those users were following nearly 1.9 million Twitter accounts, with no notification to those being monitored. But just about as quickly, the group faced an outcry from people who said the app, called Samaritans Radar, could identify and prey on the emotionally vulnerable — the very people the app was created to protect.

“A tool that ‘lets you know when your friends need support’ also lets you know when your stalking victim is vulnerable #SamaritansRadar,” a Briton named Sarah Brown posted on Twitter. A week and a half after the app’s introduction, the Samaritans announced it was reconsidering the outreach program and disabled the app.