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Feds study how to use social media for ‘depression surveillance’

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The Obama administration is footing the bill for a university study to monitor American depression levels by tracking their Twitter use.

How about starting with …

Seriously, Ginny might be on to something here.

According to the Free Beacon,  the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security are already using Twitter to monitor potential threats to national security. Is it that big of a leap to think an $82,0000 study paid for by National Institutes of Health and conducted by the University of California, San Diego, might have some applications in the “national security” direction?

That’s not how the grant proposal is couched, of course. While noting that about 16 percent of Americans are believed to suffer from some sort of depression in the course of their lives, the proposal laments that current large-scale research methods are largely limited to telephone surveys.

Twitter, with its anonymity, size and diversity of users could provide a broader picture with a “rich, if terse, multilingual source of real time data for public health surveillance,” the proposal states.

If the words “public health surveillance” in the specific context of “mental health” don’t give you the willies, you don’t know who Kathleen Sebelius is.

At any rate, the proposal specifically focuses its first goal on studying the “ethical issues and challenges to privacy” that come with using Twitter for public health surveillance, which will include contacting Twitter users directly if they show signs of depression (or unhappiness with the current administration?).

As pointless fed studies go, this one’s relatively cheap so far — a mere $82,800 — but in this era of federal austerity, the NIH could have at least tried to save some money. Want to monitor the U.S. population for depression on Twitter? It’s not that hard. And it usually involves the president’s name, one way or the other.

As in …

or maybe …

or how about …

Really, it’s not all that hard to monitor Twitter for signs of depression.

There are millions and millions of Americans who are seriously unhappy with the man in the White House and his minions in the administration.

But maybe that’s what this “public health surveillance” is really all about.



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