Social Good

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.

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6 thoughts on “Social Good

  1. Excellent article, Katie. I think it is important to highlight the good that can be done with social media. Too often, mainstream media focus on cyber bullying and extremist recruiting campaigns. As Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” We need to celebrate those who are making a positive difference, promote what they are doing and hope others follow their lead. Society is putting a lot of information on social media; it’s up to society to do something good with that information.

    • I found with these blog posts that it is easier to focus on the negative and that is what is constantly out there and much easier to find information on than the good. I think it is important for us as social media practitioners to highlight the good that is being done and can be done.

  2. I think that this is a very interesting read, and if something good can come from all the social media use out there, and that mental illness can be helped through this, then I am very excited to see what will come from the study. Most people with a mental illness won’t reach out for a hand, so having a program that flags post, I think will make it easier for others to reach out to them!

    Very cool!

    • It is a two-way street and having places online where you can go for help if needed (even an anonymous chat or forum, etc) or where others can flag issues and step in to offer help are both needed.

  3. I love the idea of a mechanism to allow parents to be aware of any issues with their children. I think our children are so far ahead of us on their use of social media and we are constantly racing to keep up with them. Having a program that can alert a parent to anything concerning would be an excellent tool to allow parents to be “Caught up” vs always one step behind. (For example teens have already left Facebook for other programs because their parents are now active users and are far more Facebook Savy).

    I agree with the posts above – it is refreshing to see this social media usage data being collected for the greater good – as opposed to allowing for targeted advertising and the like.

    • This is a very good point. Teens are on social media apps and channels their parents have no idea about, and may be posting things on there that they could never say out loud to their parents or their peers to their faces.

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