It is incredible that we live in an age in which we can share to the whole world what is on our minds, whilst simultaneously viewing what is the latest sporting update, hearing the latest buzz about our favourite celebrities or seeing the next inflammatory comment that Donald Trump is making. And better still, all of this is achieved in 140 characters or less in the ever-growing, ever-changing world of Twitter. Significantly, this 140 character limit has afforded concise quips and feelings to be posted to the world at a rapid rate, stripping the tweets of any unnecessary niceties or excess words. Consequently, Twitter has become a rich source of dynamic content and raw data which provides a brief and condensed window into the unfiltered thoughts and feelings of society, ultimately becoming it’s own social commentator. Twitter contains a wealth of knowledge and insight that is begging to be tapped; thus, I decided to conduct a variety of searches to try and understand the current climate of mental health on social media.
I decided to orient the scope of my data around the notion of ‘feelings’. Given my particular interest in men’s mental health, I had a keen interest in what people would associate with ‘feeling like a man’. So I created this initial search:
However, I found that the search was completely inundated by Shania Twain references to ‘Man! I feel like a woman’:
Thus, I refined my search to reduce any unnecessary results or references:
And after editing and refining my search a number of times I began to steer away from my initial focus on the word ‘man’, as it was often being used as a word of emphasis, for example:
Instead I started widening my search to just observe the way people are feeling, but instead of becoming overwhelmed by a veritable multitude of results, I refined my search limiting it to what people were saying they were feeling ‘Right now’:
By narrowing the results to ‘right now’, I received a great deal of data that was situational, reactive and unfiltered as many people tweeted how they were feeling about something that had just happened to them and not simply making a sweeping statement of their general mood of the day. Interestingly, there was a vast majority of women posting about their feelings and emotions, and although the posts did not always provide a reason why these people were feeling the way they were, there was an implicit understanding that something external had caused such feelings.
By filtering the results in the context of ‘right now’, I was able to receive a snapshot into the different ways in which people interact with, and contribute to, the conversation of emotions and mental health on social media. The tweets became almost an avenue in which the person could vent and express any bottled up emotions or thoughts. Why is this? Do they feel that people would like to know how they are going? Or maybe they feel a sense of validation and finality, as they know that a wide spectrum of people now know and understand their current situation.
However, as I reflected on my results, I realised that I had never actually scraped twitter for the exact phrase “I feel like a man”. Hence, I conducted a final search to see if I could glean any further insights into how people act and react to emotions and feelings on social media, only this time I could refine my search to specifically target conceptions of what it feels like to be a man.
Significantly, the majority of the tweets were still being posted by women, rather than men. There were a plethora of tweets centralised around women feeling like men due to them having muscles or their hair up. I found this fascinating as it demonstrated that this stereotyping is not purely perpetuated by the male community telling men who they ought to be, but rather women contributing and fuelling these unhealthy images of what men are: short haired, muscular, etc. I found it fascinating that the only men I could find contributing to this conversation were making jokes or making light of the stereotypical man. This I believe, provides a keen insight into the way in which men process, contribute to and deal with issues; for if they feel particularly motivated, heated or emotional about a certain topic they may be compared to women and have their masculinity brought into scrutiny.
A visual design response to this data would be to collate each time a tweet is made that uses the exact phrase “I feel like a man” and replace that phrase with “I am a man”. Upon doing that I could generate a system in which, through code, a bot detects whether the sentence ends directly after the phrase “I feel like a man” is written. If it is the end of a sentence, then put the word “because” immediately before the phrase, if not, then put the word “because” immediately after the phrase. Consequently, these tweets will become an extreme visualisation of the ways in which we are perpetually instructing men on how to be men. For example the tweet earlier that says:
“My muscles are getting even bigger I feel like a man”
“My muscles are getting even bigger because I am a man”
Or “@KingBlerd not happening!!! I don’t even like wearing my hair up bc i feel like a man” would become:
“@KingBlerd not happening!!! I don’t even like wearing my hair up bc i am a man”
This bot would then tweet back, with the updated tweet, at whoever had tweeted the original tweet. Ultimately, this design would hopefully cause those engaging in twitter to rethink or reevaluate the way in which they respond to and contribute to feelings of masculinity and male stereotypes.
Through this web scraping exercise I have gained a broader understanding of the way in which both men and women engage with and contribute to issue of male stereotyping on social media. Here are five significant findings that I have gleaned from my observations:
- Bots, memes, retweets and tags can be unhelpful pieces of data which either clutter your data set or skew your results. It is best to either avoid these elements of your data, or, if you desire to study the way in which bots or memes relate to your data set, collate and analyse such data separately.
- Woman are more likely to use social media to express their feelings than men are.
- When conducting data searches, it is of utmost importance to tweak, refine and perfect your search constraints as even the addition or subtraction of one word can radically change the data set you receive.
- Even on social media, men are reluctant to express their emotions or feelings in a serious manner. Instead they fall on jokes to make light of the situation and, ultimately, protect themselves from being insulted or perceived as ‘unmanly’.
- Although this is only a small sample size, it is alarming at how little men are engaging with the conversation of feelings and emotions on social media in proportion to the female demographic. However, by observing the way in which social media is reflecting the physical and tangible world, it would helpful to investigate ways in which changing the culture and language of online interactions might also influence the way in which we interact and engage with the issue of mental health as a whole in our physical and tangible world.