International MH News: New Project to Watch Social Media for Signs of Mental Illness

Canadian and French researchers working on algorithm to monitor online posts for warning signs

By Lauren O’Neil, CBC News

Posted: Mar 03, 2016 1:05 AM ET – Last Updated: Mar 03, 2016 6:40 AM ET

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 — along with astronomical amounts of information about social media users’ lives and habits.

Marketers have been harvesting this data to target ads and develop products for years, but so too have governments, scientists and law enforcement officials in an effort to address other challenges.

From predicting epidemics to stopping cyber-terrorists in their tracks, big data has become an invaluable resource across industries worldwide (regardless of how ethically that data is collected).

Soon, it may even be used to identify and monitor people who show signs of mental illness online.

On Tuesday, Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan announced more than $48 million in federal funding for 76 research teams across Canada through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Strategic Partnership Grants.

Of that sum, $464,100 has been granted to the University of Ottawa’s Diana Inkpen for a three-year-long project called “social web mining and sentiment analysis for mental illness detection.”

“Social media is everywhere,” reads a news release issued Tuesday by the university. “Internet users are posting, blogging and tweeting about almost everything, including their moods, activities and social interactions.”