Japanese Government Uses Social Network Data to Reduce Suicide
August 13, 2012
Technology Review recently reported on behavior analysis through social networks in the article “Spotting Suicidal Tendencies on Social Networks.”
According to the article, a history of abnormally high suicide rates among Japanese men (ages 20 to 44) and women (ages 15 to 34) have caused the Japanese government to invest heavily in suicide research and prevention in hopes of cutting the rate by 20 percent by 2017.
One of the tactics that is being discussed is by identifying people who have regular thoughts of suicide, also known as suicide ideation, through their social networks. At the University of Tokyo, Naoki Masuda and a few others have taken to researching the popular Japanese social network Mixi which has over 25 million members.
After identifying user communities that may be more prone to suicide ideation, and comparing them with a control group, Masuda found that the differences were quite subtle. There were no differences in friend numbers, age, or gender between the two groups.
Some differences included:
“People prone to suicide ideation are likely to be members of more community groups than the control group. That may be the result of spending longer online and of a desire to want to interact. But a key indicator seems to be that these people are much less likely to be members of friendship triangles. In other words, they have fewer friends who also friends of each other. This low density of friendship triangles appears to be a crucial.”
This is an interesting application of algorithms. Utilizing social networks to discover the links between online and offline behavior is still a burgeoning field and there still remain gaps in our understanding.
Jasmine Ashton, August 13, 2012