Researchers have started to tap hundreds of thousands of tweets emerging from conflict zones to see what the data can disclose about the mental health of people in distress, according to NBC News.
Munmun De Choudhury, a researcher at Georgia and an emerging leader who wants to tap the flood of social media data to gain insights into the minds of individuals as well as larger communities said:
“People are not reacting as negatively as you would expect them to.”
The results of the study surprised Choudhury’s co-author, Andres Monroy-Hernandez, a researcher at Microsoft who grew up in northern Mexico.
After the Mexican military became involved in the crackdown on the cartels in 2006, Monroy-Hernandez often heard grisly stories about murders witnessed by his family and friends.
“We can make interventions to make sure that people receive the right kind of attention at the right time.”
Because traditional media is threatened and often gagged, citizens use Twitter to report and spread news of fresh incidents. But as years ticked on, those conversations – both in person and on Twitter – took a turn.
“The Microsoft researchers used algorithms to draw out indications of numbness to violence and other stress.
Algorithms checked the tweets for specific words and word groups, as well as counting the frequency of the messages and logging the time at which they were sent.
The researchers admit that the process and final results don’t translate into simple tips on how to spot distress.
However, the study’s findings reveal how Twitter can be a window to long-term effects of a population in crisis.” Choudhury said.
“We can make interventions,” she said, “to make sure that people receive the right kind of attention at the right time.”
While monitoring social media for signs of mental distress is still a nascent science, some aid organisations have already begun using Twitter as a way to reach out with mental health help after a disaster.
For days after the Boston Marathon bombings, American Red Cross volunteers sent messages of support on Twitter and Facebook to people who posted messages about being afraid or anxious.
Gloria Huang, Senior Officer, humanitarian social engagement told NBC News:
“Emotional support is one of the most common ways we respond to people in emergencies on social media,”
Groups are also using similar techniques in Mexico.
In the city of Monterrey, the Center for Citizen Integration reaches out on Twitter to coordinate aid and psychological support. The group monitors hashtags to find people who need assistance, and responds to people who tweet at the center with questions.
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