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Study could be used to counter high suicide rates

Facebook Emotional Contagion Study could be used to counter NZ high suicide rates

Should social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter be subject to moral obligations with regards to their customers' mental health? In the wake of the furore following the “Emotional Contagion” study carried out by Facebook themselves, the question must be asked. The merits of the study have been widely debated. Many thought the study overstepped the constraints of ethical research, while others considered it standard practice, and user beware applies. The results, however, have conrmed that Facebook could indeed act as a vector for mental well being or lack thereof. From a New Zealander’s perspective, with our disproportionately high youth suicide rates, this is something that should absolutely be explored if there is any potential to slow this alarming trend. Most people have experienced, at least in some mild form, a feeling of being left out when viewing friend’s social activities splashed across Facebook. I don’t need an emotional contagion study to inform me that people’s Facebook behaviour can affect my mood. I am interested however, in the rising awareness that social networks can act as a barometer for people’s emotional health. “Suicide threats on Social networks” describes this phenomenon. Facebook’s Data Scientist, Adam Kramer has been quoted as saying, “We care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product. We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook.”

Facebook has already allowed data to be used for research in the area of predicting suicide with Middle East war veterans (The Durkheim Project). One account states that phase one experimental results have shown an ability to predict likeliness of suicide with correlations of 65 percent by analysing social media-related text. Perhaps if Facebook really does care about it’s users' emotional well being, they could take these results and their own, and provide some genuine assistance. Possibly in the form of onsite education in place of a tiny portion of some their advertising space. They could take it upon themselves to offer some medically approved advice to their users about how to pick up on the early indicators for people displaying high suicide risk or other psychological disorders. Or perhaps links to helplines with an eye-catching visual. Of course the degree to which you are affected emotionally does come down to the individual, and all the onus for monitoring mental health should be placed just on Facebook's shoulders. Self awareness and taking control of your social media life does not stop at the keyboard despite your perceived distance from your audience. If you are affected negatively by something you willingly take part in, then stop or at least modify. Block news feeds from recidivist show offs and/or reduce your friend list to only those you actually want to hear from. Simple but highly effective.


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