“Psycho-Social Media” : Diagnosis in Tech-Age

The dialogue between the pros and cons of social media has been long and ongoing — since the “OG” social media platform MySpace to the more recent Snapchat, the debate between the detrimental effects vs. expressive benefits of social media continues in people of all ages and cultures. Nevertheless social media has become a prominent part of culture — used by all ages, all ethnicity, and gender.

Depending on the platform you can find various bits and pieces about an individual’s life, thoughts and musing, so that you can now know a person without even truly knowing them. Random thoughts and opinions? Check Twitter. Check Facebook for a general scope of their life. The sheer amount of information one can gleam from another’s social media accounts is tremendous. Young adults spend at least 4 hours on their phone using social media a day, updating and checking their various profiles — needless to say the amount of content they put out into the “internet-sphere” about their daily life is significant.

The creative applications of using social media continue to arise as social media use increases with no signs of slowing down — companies capitalize on advertising through “internet-famous” average Joes, artists launch their albums online, and such. This arises the question of using social media for clinical applications. There has been an increase in apps for depression, monitoring stress levels and such — but what about using one’s social media profile for clinical diagnoses? Would the ability to monitor and review a patient’s social media profile give information that won’t typically be revealed during diagnostic testing?

In diagnostic testing, depending on the scale and method of measurement, it can not be said with 100% confidence that what the patient says is truthful — there can be a bias in self-perception and self-reporting. Thus enter the idea of adding social media monitoring as a part of diagnosing the patient. As everyone spends a significant chunk of their day on social media, sharing pieces of their lives to others there could be potential relevant information that could benefit the diagnostic process.

An angsty tweet could be reflective of suicidality typical in Depression, constant Instagram posts of substance use could aid in diagnosing Substance Abuse Disorder. As social media is such a big part of our lives, it is guaranteed that we share the ongoings of our struggles, daily activities and thoughts online. It can reveal aspects that we would not generally perceive ourselves doing or comfortable sharing with clinician, allowing us to get a different side of the patient that may not be reflected or tested in the diagnostic test.

With the advancement of technology, this method could prove viable and reliable in aiding with diagnosis. Many of us use social media platforms to express ourselves so often that it can be an accurate portrayal of the self. At the same, the “image” issue can cause an effect in using this method for an accurate diagnosis. The illusion we create of our ideal self can affect the accuracy of using social media in diagnosis. Fundamentally, it can affect the validity of what the results in diagnosis — how accurate will it be if it isn’t the true self?

That being said, with the sheer amount of social media platforms we use each with different purposes, it is possible to distinguish the true self and ideal self image we put out to the internet. Twitter for our unfiltered thoughts? Snapchat for a glimpse of our daily life in form of a video clip? Thus if we are able to separate the “real” from the “fake” then the validity of this method in supplementing diagnostic testing is reflective of the person.

In our daily lives — by simply browsing through another’s social media, we already get a sense of the person’s identity and personality (aka stalking them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc.). Most of the time we can conclude that we are relatively accurate in our prediction of how the person is in real life. But could this method be implemented into clinical diagnoses of psychopathological disorders? Empirical research and studies would need to be done.

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