Our Health Can Affect Our Appearance on Social Media

Ayesha Azeem ‘23

Figure 1. Recent research has indicated that our health often impacts the way we present ourselves on social media.

Due to the current Coronavirus pandemic, social distancing is in full effect, and one of the few ways in which we can remain in touch with our loved ones is on social media. Social media encompasses a large part of today’s generation’s lives; we present an ideal version of ourselves online, controlling how we want to be perceived by the world. Recently, in a study led by Stony Brook University H. Andrew Schwartz, PhD, new evidence supports that the language people use on social media, specifically Facebook, subtly changes before a visit is made to the emergency room for a medical problem.

The researchers recruited 2,915 patients at a local hospital, all of whom consented to sharing their Facebook posts and medical records. Out of the 2,915, around 419 individuals posted about a recent emergency room visit, with primary reasons including chest pain, headaches, shortness of breath and pregnancy. To analyze how medical problems can affect language use online, Schwartz and his team made sure to read posts as early as 2 and a half months before the hospital visit was made using a machine learning model. 

The researchers concluded that as the patients felt worse about their health (as their eventual emergency room visit drew nearer), they began to post more about health and family, using anxious and depressed language to express their thoughts. Less informal language, including acronyms like “lol” and emojis were also noted, possibly due to the underlying feelings of anxiety and stress behind the posts made just prior to visiting the hospital. Some posts also revealed health choices and behaviors directly related to the reason behind the eventual emergency room visit. For example, one user posted about fasting for 24 hours before a scheduled surgery; another user posted about eating fast food before visiting the hospital for chest pain and heart failure. 

By evaluating subtle changes made by individuals before they report an illness or medical problem, professionals can eventually provide their patients with the appropriate care they need. By studying patients’ activity on social media, the researchers were able to better understand patients’ thoughts and behaviors before making a hospital visit. Social media is a large portion of individuals’ lives. This study may help future researchers identify other potential risk factors and symptoms that align with an eventual health issue and prevent the problem from worsening. Further studies on the connection between social media activity and health can help improve patients’ lives before they even realize that they have a problem in the first place. 

References:

  1. S. Guntuku, et al., Variability in language used on social media prior to hospital visits. Scientific Reports, (2020). Doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-60750-8.
  2. Image retrieved from: https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2017/06/09/15/15/facebook-2387089_960_720.jpg

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