The value of the data that can be mined on social media is becoming more and more apparent and it is starting to be looked at, and used, in new and interesting ways. Beyond the typical use of data mining for targeting for advertising, a recent article on CBC News revealed a Canadian study that is exploring how social media data can be used to help detect and monitor individuals potentially at risk of mental health issues.
Every minute of every day, approximately 347,000 tweets, 293,000 Facebook statuses and 400 hours worth of YouTube videos are uploaded to the web
The 3-year long project called “social web mining and sentiment analysis for mental illness detection” is setting out to create a set of tools that can be used by doctors, psychologists, school counsellors, research groups and others to flag concerning patterns in social media posts. Text-mining algorithms will be used to pick up different patterns within the data they are mining from social media sites and to predict the patterns.
On social media people are posting about everything in their lives, with very little filter, from what they are doing to how they are feeling. Their moods, activities, and social interactions are out there for all to see.
This study is a natural extension of the education, awareness and fundraising that is already being done online around mental health. Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign is the most well-known social campaign being used to help end the stigma around mental illness, and it is allowing people to talk more about this issue on social media and their own struggles with mental. The data from this campaign will be a goldmine for this study, as the amount of posts on that day were huge.
The program will watch for how an individual’s online activities change over time, and then raise a flag. The program could then notify that individual’s doctor. This program could also extend to cases of cyber-bullying. Parents or school counsellors would be notified if strange or angry messages appear online.
The use of social media for the greater good and to tackle larger scale issues is becoming one direction the future of social media is headed. It is a gold mine of information and can be put to use to help on a larger scale. A recent example of this are the “check-ins” that have been implemented on Facebook during crisis events such as the Paris attacks. This is being developed even further to create a warning system for weather events to help see lives (see VStDenis’ blog post for the full breadth of these systems).
Another example that comes to mind, as I do work in the insurance industry, was Manulife Canada’s announcement early this year that they would be offering discounts on insurance for healthy living utilizing the tracking of lifestyle data.
Unlike other insurance plans, which largely rely on a self-verifying questionnaire and then claims activity to set rates, the Vitality program will work with wearable fitness-tracking devices such as Fitbit to monitor healthy living activities, and offer reward points or insurance discounts as the policy evolves.
Despite all the scary and bad aspects of social media, there is so much good and benefits that it brings. Social media isn’t going anywhere, and the use of data and social media for the greater good and the betterment of society is one way that it will be continuing to grow and evolve.