Samaritans Radar: understanding how people use twitter…

On the Samaritans website, in a recent ‘update’ on Samaritans Radar, they note:

“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.”

So the people behind Samaritans Radar – and I don’t believe for a moment that this is the Samaritans as a whole – think that there are basically two modes of usage of Twitter: broadcasting information to people you don’t know, and communicating with friends. Now I’m a pretty prolific Twitter user – I’m closing in on 150,000 tweets – but I would say that even now I’ve only scratched the surface of the possible uses of Twitter, and the possible ways to use Twitter. I’ve developed my own way of using Twitter – and I suspect pretty much everyone who uses Twitter has done the same. Indeed, that’s one of the great things about Twitter: it’s relatively non-prescriptive. There’s no particular ‘way’ to use twitter – there are an infinite number of ways. Just off the top of my head, I can think of a whole number of distinctly different reasons that I use twitter.

  1. To keep up with the news – people I follow post links to fascinating stories, often far faster than mainstream media news
  2. To get updates from people I know in a professional capacity – I’m an academic, working in law and privacy, and there’s a great community of legal and privacy people on Twitter.
  3. To publicise my blog – it’s the best way to get readers (and yes, that fits the broadcast platform idea)
  4. To make contacts – some become friends, some are professional, some both
  5. To exchange ideas with people that I know – and with people that I don’t know. These may be work ideas, or just general ideas
  6. To live-tweet events that I’m attending, to allow those not present to learn what’s happening
  7. To have fun! I play hashtag games, watch silly videos, make jokes and so on.
  8. To follow live events and programmes – following BBC’s Questiontime via the #bbcqt hashtag is much more fun than watching the real thing
  9. To have political arguments – some of my ‘favourites’ at the moment are fights with UKIP supporters…
  10. To let off steam – when I’m angry or annoyed about something
  11. To express pleasure – if I’ve enjoyed something, I like to say so! Watching a good TV programme, for example
  12. To access and read material about subjects I’m interested in
  13. To follow my football team (the mighty Wolverhampton Wanderers)
  14. To support people I like – whether they’re friends or not
  15. To Retweet tweets or links to blogs from people that I like – and new blogs that I’ve not found before. A kind of ‘blog-networking’
  16. To spread interesting stories to the people that follow me
  17. To keep in touch with friends (yes, that fits the Samaritans idea) and to be there when they need support
  18. To feel in contact with current events and issues – not just news, but the ‘buzz’
  19. To experiment with ideas…
  20. To crowdsource the answer to questions – ‘ask twitter’
  21. Creating online performance art! (h/t @SusanhallUK)
  22. Just to see what happens – something wonderful might! Serendipity (h/t @LizIxer)
  23. Getting helpful corrections to blog posts!
  24. Receiving/conveying first-hand information from people ‘on the scene’ regarding events in the news (#Ferguson, say) (via @Doremus42)

This is only part of it – the ones that I could think of in a few minutes – and they overlap, merge, combine and produce new things all the time. I have around 9,000 followers, and follow around 7,500 people, and the relationships I have with each of them vary immensely. Some I know in ‘real life’ and consider my friends. Some are colleagues. Some I know well online but have never met. Some I have no idea about at all, but it seemed like a good thing at the time to follow them – or, presumably, they thought it might be interesting to follow me. Some are my political ‘allies’, some very much my opponents. Some I will tweet personally with, others I will just exchange professional information with. Some I will tease – and some I will offend immensely. I try to be sensitive – but often fail. What I do know, though, is that there’s no one way to use Twitter. There’s no prescriptive model. Twitter is particularly adaptable…

…which is one of the reasons it’s particularly suitable for many people with mental health issues. People can use Twitter as they want to, and find a way that suits them, and their own personality, their own views, their own way of being. And that’s one of the many reasons that ideas like Samaritans Radar are misconceived. As set out on their update, they have a particular model in mind – and have not properly considered that this model is only one of a vast range of possibilities. Their idea fits their preconception – but it doesn’t fit the ways that other people use Twitter. And when those other people – particularly people who are vulnerable – have other ways to use Twitter, their ideas don’t fit, and end up being potentially deeply damaging. Further, when Samaritans fail to listen to exactly those people when those people say ‘that’s not how it is for me’, they make things worse. Far worse.

Again, I’d like to appeal to the Samaritans to reconsider this whole project. Withdraw it now, and have a rethink. An organisation that listens should be able to do that.

13 thoughts on “Samaritans Radar: understanding how people use twitter…

  1. Good list. I guess the Samaritans’ basic fallacy is saying “this is aimed at group X” – which would be fine and dandy if it only affected group X and everyone else could just ignore it. The entire problem with Radar is that you have no control (bar opting out, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms) over whether it affects you or not. It’s like setting up a sound system outside my house that blares loud music until 2 am, and responding to criticism by saying “Well, this is really only aimed at those people who like to stay up late partying…”.

  2. Samaritans are out of their depth. They have no idea how different Twitter is to Facebook and they seem unable to learn. Moreover, they mistakenly discount the deep understanding of prolific Twitter users and inflate their own. That’s Dunning-Kruger all over. They are not going to be persuaded, so we’re just going to have to shut it down.

  3. This whole thing smacks to me of developers pitching an idea and Samaritans losing all sight of how it will fit in with their core purpose. It makes absolutely no sense to solicit more “custom” via Twitter by asking people’s friends to monitor them, it destroys the confidentiality that Samaritans has always guaranteed and is also implicitly deciding what people who are feeling down should do, rather than treating them as autonomous beings.

    Simply can’t imagine how they’ve got this so wrong, but I imagine it’s something to do with their comms or IT team taking the lead and making policy on the hoof – I’ve seen this in other organisations and it’s never helpful.

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