Talking about mental health and data privacy

The topics making waves on social media today are: mental health - how we don't talk about it enough. Also: should you make your social media posts available for research into mental health? Or to a private company if it means lower car insurance premiums?

Image copyright Newscast Online
Image caption Many people are saying we need more public discussion of mental health to remove the stigma attached to it

Let's talk about #MeAndMyMentalIllness

Image copyright Twitter/@vallmeister

There's a lot of praise today for a Channel 5 documentary about mental illness that aired on Tuesday evening.

"Couldn't think of a more honest, simple yet relatable documentary, just wish there was more funding and less stigma," said one user.

"I'm so happy that all these different illnesses are being highlighted. There are many many people struggling... I wasn't aware of how many until I sought treatment myself." said another.

Many of the people who featured in the documentary have also been talking about it on social media. Boxer Frank Bruno, for example, told a user on Facebook he hadn't known he had bipolar disorder when he was boxing, and that it had become more noticeable after he retired.

"Let's stop it being 'brave' to talk about mental illness and make it 'normal' like we talk about cancer, asthma or broken leg #timetochange," urged former Labour communications director, Alastair Campbell.


Would you let someone use your Facebook posts to judge your mental health?

Facebook app on an iPhone Image copyright PA
Image caption One in seven people around the world have a Facebook account

An article in the medical journal The Lancet Psychiatry is making the case for using social media posts, particularly Facebook, to research mental health and to deliver mental health care.

"It should no longer be a debate about whether researchers and health-care providers engage with social networking sites, but rather how best to use this technology to promote positive change," the article said.

An opinion piece in the Guardian raised questions about the risks of Facebook posts being used to judge people's mental health more broadly.

"The idea of being neatly categorised as 'mentally ill' or 'mentally well' simply because of the things we choose to share online is both unethical and potentially dangerous," it said.

Many responding to the article on Twitter were inclined to agree. "Not something we should use algorithms for. Not everything can be 'detected' in this way," said one user.

"No, no, no , nonononononono. NO! #Facebook should not be allowed even close to mental health data!" said another.


How about letting a car insurer look at your posts?

Image copyright Corbis
Image caption Facebook has stopped a plan by a British insurer to offer new drivers discounts based on their posts

Privacy concerns are also the reason Admiral, a British insurance company, has stalled on a planned service to offer new drivers discounts on their car insurance, based on their Facebook posts.

The company's First Car Quote service was due to launch today but its website said it was still sorting out "a hitch" and would let users know when it was up and running.

News about the service has been reported widely and, on Twitter, many talking about it referred to "Big Brother" and dystopian futures.

Admiral's Twitter account said it did not use social media data to set prices for its policy holders. But those responding to its tweets were not appeased.

"I have now judged your company as one I would not want to do business with. Based on how you would profile people on lifestyle," said one user.

Facebook said the network had clear guidelines against using information from it to make decisions about eligibility.

"Protecting the privacy of the people on Facebook is of utmost importance to us... We have made sure anyone using this app is protected by our guidelines and that no Facebook user data is used to assess their eligibility," a spokesperson said.


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