Mental Illness – A data scrape on Twitter

Twitter is a service for people from all walks of life to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent messages. People post Tweets, which may contain photos, videos, links and up to 140 characters of text. Twitter is one of the most popular social media platforms today. I have never used Twitter before but it was interesting and quite entertaining to see it’s primary use and what people posted on it.

For my first advanced search I used typical words that relate to my issue, mental illness. I included hashtags and a variety key words then narrowed down the language to English.

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I drew from the exercise we did in week 4, where we listed as many words we could associated with the topic of our choice.

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Moran, C. 2016
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Moran, C. 2016

What I noticed instantly about Twitter is that majority of Tweets are from celebrities, about celebrities or re-tweeted from celebrities/big name personalities. The influx of Tweets at the beginning of my search were about Hilary Clinton’s health. I didn’t know about this issue but was soon informed after only five minutes on Twitter. Twitter is a platform that reflects the current and trending issues of today’s society.

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As I scrolled much further down past the Hilary posts, a second celebrity, Zayn Malik from popular boy band One Direction, also had quite a number of Tweets. The singer cancelled his show due to anxiety and his issues with mental health.

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And again as I scrolled past the clutter of Hilary Clinton and Zayn Malik tweets, there were more tweets about other celebrities. However this time many of the tweets were about celebrities breaking the stigma of mental health. Because of their status they can use this to raise greater awareness for mental health and become influences/role models for other users.

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From first experience on Twitter what I could conclude was that it is a huge platform for celebrities/big personalities. Majority of the talk on Twitter involved some sort of celebrity followed by any running jokes or issues surrounding them. However, once you scroll past the star studded clutter there are many tweets that address big issues (such as mental illness) from everyday users like you and I. Twitter can become a space where people feel comfortable to voice their opinion and raise awareness. Because of the word limit the Tweets that come through on the feed are more direct and easy to read, unlike some posts found on other social media platforms i.e. Facebook or Tumblr.

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After using the advanced search on Twitter, I used the Google spreadsheet to accumulate more Tweets surrounding mental illness. This time, however, I typed in only one hash tag and one that wasn’t as obvious as “mental illness” and that was #identitycrisis. The results that Twitter fetched were mainly Tweets about migration and identity found in ones nationality. Other popular Tweets that surfaced were more humorous and quirky. The search on the Google spreadsheet was quite different because you could control what Tweets you wanted read by the different categories i.e. amount of follows, amount of favourites. And because it is a live feed, it can still keep the user up to date with trending Tweets and issues. Something interesting I gathered from reading the tweets with the hash tag #identitycrisis, was that people tend to make a joke of it or make reference to it in a sarcastic way. Maybe it is a coping mechanism or maybe it has become a desensitised issue and it was most prominent in younger users. The amount of parodies and humorous tweets also indicate the issues that seem important in todays society. Also, a lot of the Tweets came from mobile devices which shows the accessibility of Twitter and is easy to use for time poor people or those who are always on the move.

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Twitter, to me, is a place where people can post opinions and keep up with trending news. Due to the high volume of users, it is always updating and can very easily keep people in the loop. In a way, it acts as an update of world issues.

5 Point Summary:

1.) Twitter is prominent and useful platform for celebrities/big personalities – this is beneficial for raising awareness and breaking stigmas (not just for mental illness).
2.) Parody or humorous tweets can also indicate the seriousness or awareness of certain issues.
3.) Twitter is a useful platform for NGO’s or health services to raise awareness of their work and of the issue of mental health.
4.) Although social media is an open space that can offer encouragement and raise awareness of different issues it can also create targets of people. Users can tear down others in an overt and malicious way creating a discouraging and intimidating environment.
5.)Twitter is a platform that reflects the current and trending issues of today’s society.

1.) Twitter 2016, Twitter search Mental Illness, forum, viewed 1 September 2016
<https://twitter.com/search?src=typd&q=mental%20OR%20illness%20%20OR%20stigma%20OR%20taboo%20OR%20crazy%20%23identitycrisis%20OR%20%23health%20OR%20%23stigma%20OR%20%23mentalillness%20lang%3Aen%20include%3Aretweets&gt;