LAX / JFK (RuPaul) — NYTimes: Researchers are looking at online behavior to gauge public mental health. nytimes.com/2020/10/12/sty….
Researchers are looking at online behavior to gauge public mental health. The results aren’t pretty.
Since 2008, the Hedonometer has gathered a random 10 percent of all public tweets, every day, across a dozen languages. The tool then looks for words that have been ranked for their happy or sad connotation, counts them, and calculates a kind of national happiness average based on which words are dominating the discourse.
On May 31, the most commonly used words on English language Twitter included “terrorist,” “violence” and “racist.” This was about a week after George Floyd was killed, near the start of the protests that would last all summer.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Hedonometer’s sadness readings have set multiple records. This year, “there was a full month — and we never see this — there was a full month of days that the Hedonometer was reading sadder than the Boston Marathon day,” Dr. Danforth said. “Our collective attention is very ephemeral. So it was really remarkable then that the instrument, for the first time, showed this sustained, depressed mood, and then it got even worse, when the protests started.”
“Social media provides a huge benefit because historically most research on mental health has been self-reported, so people were given surveys,” Dr. De Choudury said. “And the people who were recruited were either college students or patients at a clinic. We’re now able to look at a much more diverse variety of mental health experiences.”
Examining Twitter data during the first two months of the pandemic outbreak in the United States, Dr. De Choudury has been looking for signs of not just simple sadness, like the Hedonometer, but also anxiety, depression, stress and suicidal thoughts. Unsurprisingly, she found that all these levels were significantly higher than during the same months of 2019.
You may be wondering if Twitter is really a representative place to check the state of the general population’s mental health. After all, many of its users tend to refer to it by such nicknames as “hellsite” and “sewer.”