Post 6: Data Scraping
Twitter is a social media platform that is diverse in it’s content and it’s users, but unique in it’s purpose. I chose Twitter as the form of social media that I was to analyse in relation to my chosen issue of mental health. One of my dear friends has quite a successful Twitter account, and I vividly remember her likening this platform of social media as more often than not “screaming into the void”. While other applications like Facebook are based on community building and conversation through media, Twitter was built on, and will always be remembered for, it’s immediacy and it’s publication of personal opinion. Twitter has an intimacy that differs from newer social media applications like SnapChat and Periscope in that it gives us not a snapshot of one’s life, but gives them a platform to voice their inner musings, thoughts, feelings, opinions. I chose Twitter for this data scraping task as opinions on and experiences of mental health would undoubtedly be more likely publicised on a platform that encourages such personal and intimate expression.
Analysing tweets across the world over this past weekend, I decided to focus on simple search terms and combinations of words that might give some insight into why people are choosing to voice their sadness or negative feelings online and what their reasons are behind this. Replacing the word ‘sad’ with ‘happy’ in these instances yielded many more results using the same search terms. I would argue people on Twitter, due to the public nature of the platform, and also in everyday life, are more likely to voice their joy for something than their sadness. It is this reluctancy to voice what is on our mind in relation to our feelings of sadness that is hindering so many individuals from seeking help when it comes to their mental health.
I started off with words like “makes me sad”, which yielded less personalised results, as most of the posts were based on other people’s actions. This particular phrase lends toward discussion of why things we observe out in our world might affect us negatively. The combination of these words revealed that most of the tweets over the weekend using these search terms were in relation to friend’s and other relationships.
I then adjusted my search terms in order to try and yield some more personal results in relation to individual’s sense of self and understand why they might be feeling some negativity that particular day. I experimented with a few different words and combinations until I settled on these two:
Altering my search terms helped target information more suited to what I was after, that related to the individual themselves. Understandably, there was a trend for tweets involving personal sadness be in relation to current world affairs. While a small number of tweets related to world issues and events, some in the wake of the Earthquake in Italy, the death of a celebrity or current political conversations;
There was also the worrying trend of individuals addressing their sadness in a minor way, but also making reference to why they might not be able to voice said sadness in everyday life. There is a huge amount of backlash against individuals that voice their personal struggles with mental health, especially on the internet, and a trend to label these individuals as liars or attention seekers that would deter them from speaking their mind or seeking help in the future.
However the most troubling and definitely the most common tweets surrounding personal experiences of sadness expressed confusion around why in fact they were feeling sad. While I set out to find out what it is that might make us sad enough to write a tweet, I ended up being quite taken aback by the overwhelming majority of tweets that revealed that so many people “don’t know” why they are sad, or feel confused as to what is causing their drop in mood. We all know there are a huge number of things that can affect our mood on a daily basis, but we are also aware that depressive symptoms are often linked to unexplainable sadness, and are not necessarily caused by any one thing in particular. Feeling a drop in mood without being able to source and understand these feelings can be hugely confusing and could indeed be related to more serious mental health issues then merely a bad day.
When reading these results, I started to wonder what could be done about this particular trend. Twitter is a social media platform that does not primarily encourage conversation, while individuals can ReTweet and add their own comments, their words are not engaged in a community format as with Facebook. I started to imagine ways we can try and communicate with these individuals in relation to their words. I remembered our lecture on Data Scraping and Twitter Bots, and how lovely it might be to find use these search terms in a more succinct way to find people who reveal that they are sad and they don’t know why, and ReTweet their words with messages of encouragement or links to potentially helpful online sources. There are plenty of great sources like HeadSpace UK (different to HeadSpace AU) that are free applications designed to teach relaxation skills that naturally increase serotonin and general happiness. I could almost guarantee that these people who shout their unidentifiable happiness ‘into the void’ would be so touched by the consideration, and perhaps look into potential solutions.
Screenshots from HeadSpace Application, 2016, viewed 5th August 2016 <https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app>.