Y: You’re posting to Facebook again, Don? I thought you told me you wanted to cut back on social media.
D: Well, you know Yaël, I’ve been doing some thinking, and maybe social media isn’t all that bad. It can tell us some surprising things about a person’s well-being. For example, scientists have been studying how the language people use on Facebook changes subtly before they’re admitted to a hospital’s emergency department. They studied 419 patients at an urban hospital who had recently visited an emergency department, and who had consented to share their Facebook posts and electronic health records. A machine-learning model was used to analyze the language in their Facebook posts over the two and a half months preceding their emergency department visit, which found that most patients’ language changed significantly as they got closer to their health emergency. Their posts increasingly included mentions of family and health, used more anxious language, and used less informal language and internet slang such as “lol.” And this isn’t the first time we’ve seen language on Facebook predict a health issue—a previous study involving some of the same researchers found that the language of a person’s Facebook posts could predict depression even 3 months before an official diagnosis. Maybe in the future social media could help doctors identify at-risk patients and schedule a visit with them before a trip to the emergency department became necessary.
Y: I don’t know if posting another cat meme is going to give anyone a lot of insight into your well-being, though.
D: Don’t be so sure. I can picture a cat meme and health study just around the corner.