While Twitter has been used by government agencies, such as the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security, for national security related monitoring, the project suggests the social network can be used for public health surveillance as well.
“Major depressive disorder is one of the most common debilitating illnesses in the United States, with a lifetime prevalence of 16.2 [percent],” the project grant states. “Currently, nationwide mental health surveillance takes the form of large-scale telephone- based surveys.”
The project argues that Twitter is preferable to phone surveys on the mentally ill because the site offers 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.