Category: Social Networking

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Failed Mental Health App Highlights Pitfalls of Social Media

00Depression, Featured news, Health, Media, Social Networking, Stress, Suicide July, 16

Source: Jayson Lorenzen on Flickr

On October 29, 2014, The Samaritans—a suicide-prevention organization in the United Kingdom—launched an app for Twitter called Samaritans Radar. Its purpose: to detect alarming, depressive, and suicidal tweets to help prevent suicide. Less than a week later, the app was suspended due to public outcry over privacy concerns.

Social media are being used increasingly for marketing and advertising, with privacy a growing issue. Many marketing apps, like Hootsuite, track users’ social media posts in fairly covert ways. Yet, when social media pits privacy against mental health, ethical conflicts are concerning.

Traditionally in mental healthcare, there are few reasons to break confidentiality between client and therapist, such as harm to self or others.

The Samaritans Radar app worked by tracking tweets from every account the individual follows on Twitter. If alarming content was found—ranging from “I’m tired of being alone.” to “Feeling sad.”—the app would notify the user by email. Along with the email, came a link to the flagged tweet, as well as suicide intervention and prevention resources that the individual could provide to the writer of the alarming content.

At the launch of the app, the organization said that:

“Samaritans Radar turns your social net into a safety net by flagging potentially worrying tweets from friends, that you may have missed, giving you the option to reach out and support them.”

The app was quickly criticized for allowing users to track people’s tweets without their awareness or consent. The Samaritans replied by highlighting that everything posted on Twitter and all the information the app uses was public, and that it was up to the app’s user to decide whether they wanted to respond to any particular tweet.

Adrian Short, who started a petition to shut down Samaritans Radar, stated that it “breaches people’s privacy by collecting, processing, and sharing sensitive information about their emotional and mental health status.”

He also noted that the app may be used by less-than-scrupulous individuals for all sorts of purposes, not just helping individuals overcome mental health issues.

The Samaritans addressed these concerns by launching a “white list,” where people could sign up if they wanted to deny the app access to tracking their account. Many did not see this as a solution since opting out would require people to be aware of the app’s existence, leaving privacy in jeopardy.

But the problem that the app was trying to address is not trivial. In the UK, where the Samaritans are based, suicide is the leading cause of death among males under the age of 35. A free mobile app could be an easily accessible way to reach out to people who are alone and lacking other forms of support.

As one of the few supporters of the app, Hannah Jane Parkinson wrote for the Guardian:

“It is estimated that 9.6% of young people aged 5-16 have a clinically recognised mental health condition. Anything that helps to better this situation is great, and particularly as it is crucial to catch mental ill health early on.”

Yet as Adrian Short and others pointed out, this same easy access also poses potential threats. Internet bullying is common, especially among vulnerable users that Samaritans Radar targeted. The app could therefore be used for nefarious purposes.

“The app makes people more vulnerable online. While this could be used legitimately by a friend to offer help, it also gives stalkers and bullies and opportunity to increase their levels of abuse at a time when their targets are especially down,” says Adrian Short.

The app was an attempt to reach out to people in need of emotional support and to raise awareness about mental health using new media. But it highlighted the potential pitfalls of such platforms for dealing with mental health concerns. While the incidence of mental health problems is concerning, putting peoples’ mental health into the hands of anyone with access to a smartphone is naïve.

Perhaps this unsuccessful launch did successfully show that a greater understanding of social media users and platforms is needed before apps like Samaritan Radar can become commonplace.

– Essi Numminen, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Social Media Cannot Fix ‘Being Alone’…Nor Should It

Social Media Cannot Fix ‘Being Alone’…Nor Should It

00Featured news, Friends, Media, Relationships, Self-Esteem, Social Networking May, 15

Source: Federico Morando/Flickr

As Facebook turned eleven this past February, I became acutely aware of my various virtual connections. I can tweet about what I am having for breakfast, or post a photo of my cereal to Instagram, and so on.

But is being virtually connected an effective way of interacting with others? Gary Turk, writer and director of “Look Up,” a short film that went viral over this past weekenddoesn’t think so.

According to Michelle Drouin, a professor of psychology at Purdue University, people use technology for different reasons. For example, individuals with secure attachment – those who are able to maintain trusting relationships and possess a good sense of self – tend to use text messaging to arrange meetings and check in, but save personal conversations for face-to-face contact. But those with insecure attachment styles are more likely to use texting for reassurance or the creation of artificial distance in relationships.

Sherry Turkle, M.I.T. professor and psychologist, characterizes the problem as one of not knowing how to be alone. To manage that fear, we seek to connect virtually, yet we are also afraid of real intimacy and use social media and technology to control how we connect. She refers to this “edited version” of a real conversation as the Goldilocks effect –having not too much, not too little, but a just-right amount of comfortable contact with others.

But, edited controlled conversations can lead to a lack of empathy. Since we cannot see our friends’ reactions we are unsure if our true intention was received. And, we cannot always read the emotion or tone of a comment and can overreact or become anxious over varying interpretations. The comedian Louis C.K. notes this impact on empathy as the reason he will never get his daughter a cell phone. He also thinks we use our cell-phones and social media accounts to avoid uncomfortable situations or deep emotions.

When we experience this “half-communication” with family or friends, we are left feeling unheard and lonelier than before.

The mere presence of a mobile phone in a room during a conversation reduces the feeling of closeness and connection between individuals, say Andrew Przybylski and Netta Weinstein, psychologists and professors at the University of Essex. The presence of the phone reminds us of our social network, other connections we could be making, and divides our attention. This same divided attention creates the feeling of not being heard, so we feel less certain of our ability to trust or connect with the other person.

Louis C.K. thinks what we really need is to turn the phone off and re-connect with ourselves. Being virtually connected is not the same as true connection.

As noted, Turkle considers the driving force of the Goldilocks effect as the fear of being alone. To improve our connection with others, what we need to learn is how to be fully present, and to be fully present, we first have to be able to sit with being alone.

The ability to be alone, to be in “solitude,” is not necessarily the same as being lonely.

Some benefits of solitude include being free of the scrutiny of others, allowing for more self-expression and creativity, time spent in self-reflection, and time to re-charge and renew.

Turkle thinks that time alone in conversation with oneself builds the skills necessary to engage in conversation with others. She is not against technology, but does think we need to find a balance and rethink how we are using technology. Drouin’s research does not fault the media. If not Facebook or Twitter, we would find other means to control how we interact and avoid the scary aspects of aloneness and intimacy.

There is increasing support for the idea that we need to re-balance. Social media is not a cure for loneliness.

But if I find that posts and tweets are leaving me wanting, then it is up to me to contact my friends and family to engage in more meaningful communication.

– Heather Carter-Simmons, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today