Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Why the Samaritans' Radar is bone stupid.


The Samaritans have launched a Twitter Bot - those annoying things that follow you for no other reason than you once quoted a Beatles lyric or what have you - which will alert people's followers whenever they use a word or phrase on a list identified as having connotations of potential suicide.  I don't deny that this is a well-intentioned thing, but nonetheless it'll do more harm than good so I'm going to deconstruct it here.

1)  The Invasive Argument

  If you contact the Samaritans and they intervene then they are serving their purpose with your consent.  If you do not contact them, if you want nothing to do with them and they intervene anyway then that is an invasion.  Corporations can ask to be "whitelisted", ie the bot will ignore them, but in a shockingly arrogant display of paternalism individuals cannot.  You cannot in any way direct this thing to leave you alone.  If you are on Twitter then it deems you as being on its radar, and it will interfere in your business.

  We have this idea that all people who are contemplating ending their lives are lost souls in need of heroic salvation.  Some are, some aren't, but we cannot force this upon people from afar or we will ultimately achieve nothing.  Those who are genuinely bent on suicide will require something more than tweets to talk them down, if at all.  Those who want help, who want to be talked down, will often as not phone the bloody Samaritans!

2)  The Data Protection Argument

  This bot will end up sitting on a great list of tweets it has sent to people.  Essentially it is gathering links to personal data into a coherent archive without either the consent of those whose data it links to or any lawful authority to do so without that consent.  It is also potentially alerting people to the likelihood that someone has a mental illness, which is arguably a breach of Data Protection, the Equality Act, and accepted counselling ethics, and it'd be a daft judge that would consider the Samaritans to be acting as anything other than a counselling agency.

  Consider also that many people are followed on Twitter by their employers!  Telling an employer - rightly or wrongly - that an employee is suicidal could end up costing that employee their livelihood!
3)  The Equality Act Argument 

  Because disabled people, the mentally ill (as a subset of disabled), and LGBT people all have higher rates of attempted suicide and actual suicide than the rest of society, the negative effects of this bot will be disproportionately felt by these communities (and any others I've missed out), potentially leading to a civil breach of the Equality Act.

  If it inadvertently outs a person as transgender then that could arguably constitute a criminal breach of the Equality Act, which is highly likely given as one in three transgender people attempt suicide.  Furthermore:  a small subsect of feminists who notably use feminism as a front for transphobic bigotry has a proven track record of hounding transgender people to suicide.  The Sandyford leak happening at the same time as the release of Radar essentially hands these people an automated hit list.  All they have to do is follow the email addresses contained in the leak and see who pings the Radar, then lean on that person.  This is not a paranoid fantasy, this is a very real concern with genuine historical underpinnings.

4)  The Desensitisation Argument 

  If every time someone uses the language of bog-standard depression they get flagged to their mates as a suicide risk then their mates will turn the bot off or block it or what have you.  They'll grow sick of it and come to regard its warnings as spam, no different to the "Nigeria Letters".  When eventually the person is at genuine risk of suicide there will be a boy-who-cried-wolf effect in play and the warnings will likely go unheeded.

5)  The Own-Goal Argument

  Consider the arguments under 3 and 4, above, with suicidal people being encouraged or ignored.  Consider the argument under 2 with people's jobs being jeopardised (by the Samaritans, no less, who they might otherwise speak to after being laid off).  Consider the argument under 1, with vulnerable people feeling violated by the bot's interventions.  You have a person who is already at risk of suicide, who has had additional stressors, who has been dissuaded from reaching out to others, whose friends have been desensitised to their plight.  You've turned a person who might waver into someone more determined.  This has the potential to increase the rate of suicide in Britain.

For all these reasons I see Radar as nothing but a menace.

Saturday, 4 October 2014


I've been putting bulbs in for the new year.  

Behind the pear tree I've put in crocus bulbs.  They'll come up in Spring and hopefully they'll set seed.  I'd love for some pretty flowers to become naturalised in the garden.  I'll be planting bluebell bulbs in the January to the same purpose.  In both cases, crocus and bluebell, they'll grow in the wee nooks between other plants without bothering anything.  

They go up as far as the end of the fence, the full width.  Against the wall there in back I intend to grow climbing roses up and along the wall.  I'm considering growing Elder against the fence, so it's likely that not all of my crocuses will grow to flower, but with 75 bulbs in the ground you can be sure that a few will.  

In the island I've sown French garlic cloves.  Garlic is a magic thing: break a bulb down into cloves, sow the cloves 4" apart, and each clove becomes a whole bulb!  With anything from eight to sixteen cloves in a bulb, varying by cultivar, you have a greater than exponential increase if you replant every clove.  I shan't though.  I'm going to select for my five or six biggest bulbs each year and the rest will go to the kitchen, either for braiding and drying or for pickling.  They need a nice sharp frost in the Winter in order to divide out into bulbs, otherwise you just get a slightly larger clove than the one you buried, so with that in mind I'll be hoping for a good chill in the Winter.  Apples are a bit like that too, they need a cold Winter to produce a good yield.  

The garlic's in under the bark, to the left of the rosemary and this side of the sage.  The bark's a little thick just now, but that'll rot down over the Winter and put some carbon in the soil, mitigating the worst of any frost.  I'm quite tempted to close off this end of the island with a fan-trained damson, as the extra fruit will be very welcome.  

Still waiting on my qualification and transcript.  I've earned a distinction at HNC, which is all very wonderful, but it's doing me no good if I don't have the paperwork to show to universities or potential employers.  I'm feeling rather stuck right now and I don't like it, but with luck I'll have it all sorted ready to apply for the January intake.