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Twitter to be used to monitor for depression by the federal government

Technology is advancing, and with it comes newer and better ways to watch people, whether it’s the federal government seeking information from organizations that collect personal information, such as wireless carriers, FISA expansions which allow the U.S. to conduct surveillance without warrants, the increased authority to access data stored by other government agencies or the National Defense Authorization Act, there’s no doubt that our liberties are increasingly being targeted. Now there’s something new, the federal government is now studying how to use Twitter for surveillance on depressed people.

According to reports, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), has began a study financed by the National Institutes of Health last month. The project, titled “Utilizing Social Media as a Resource for Mental Health Surveillance” will provide monitoring for depression in the population through Twitter. Now Twitter, which has been used by other government agencies in the past to monitor national security, will also be used to watch the American public.

What is major depressive disorder?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that one in ten adults in the United States suffers from depression. Depression sufferers are most frequently persons who are 45-64 years of age, women, and those who are previously married. Common affects of depression include:

• Anhedonia or pervasive loss of interest in almost all activities; or
• Appetite disturbance with change in weight; or
• Sleep disturbance; or
• Psychomotor agitation or retardation; or
• Decreased energy; or
• Feelings of guilt or worthlessness; or
• Difficulty concentrating or thinking; or
• Thoughts of suicide; or
• Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoid thinking

Depression can also affect other chronic health conditions including arthritis, asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Economically it can also take a toll on the U.S. economic markets increasing work absenteeism, short-term disability, and decreased productivity. Yes, depression bad, but is it any of the government’s business?

How will Twitter help?

Twitter will replace other means which have been used in the past, most notably phone surveys,l to determine who is depressed. Researchers argue that Twitter will offer a “multilingual source of real time data for public health surveillance.”

“We propose using twitter and [Natural Language Processing] NLP as a cost-effective and flexible approach to augmenting current telephone- based surveillance methods for population level depression monitoring,” the grant said. According to reports, this will be the first time that “microblogs” will be used for mental health surveillance.

The goal is to determine if persons are depressed through their tweets. Tweets will then be used to monitor mental illness. Researchers will also engage with depressed individuals on Twitter directly. According to CNN, Mike Conway, Project Scientist in the Division of Behavioral Medicine at UCSD, will be head of the study.

Governments on all levels are about power and control, which of course means they seek both at every turn. Do you want the Government to monitor your Tweets? Maybe you don’t care, but the better question is what the government intends to do with that information. Government should never be the moral authority to limit freedom, but they are already trying to…see Bloomberg in New York and his ideas to limit what you drink, eat, and smoke. What could they limit if they think you have a mental disorder? Who knows, but it can’t be good.
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