Young adults posting photos of a crazy night out may be revealing more about themselves then they are ready to admit, at least according to some counselors who are gleaning information about college students who may be at risk for serious drinking problems from their Facebook profiles.
A study conducted by Megan Moreno, MD, MPH, of the University of Wisconsin, Madison found students who posted comments deemed related to “problem drinking” were more than four times as likely to score into a higher risk-category on a test of alcohol use disorders. That finding alone sounds like another non-conclusion: of course people who drank more in general would comment on pictures or posts related to alcohol.
But what Moreno hopes to do with the information is to use it in a way that can identify those students at real risk for alcohol disorders from those college students who suffer from simply being college students. Since 98% of college students use Facebook, researchers think there is real potential in the social networking site functioning as a screening device of sorts for doctors and therapists.
The study was admittedly limited, but that’s not really the point. Instead, what is of note is that health care professionals are now looking at how individuals use social media, in particular how it is used to express identity, as a diagnostic tool. Consider it another intake form in your medical file.
Moreno envisions similar studies and findings being used in dealing with the families of these young adults, since ads on Facebook are triggered by keywords displayed on the profile. And universities may be able to use Facebook ads to display messages about drinking issues when those keywords show up.
This sounds helpful to doctors and researchers, but if it’s put into practice, would Facebook users just be more aware of what they were posting so as to avoid unintended information and/or conclusions concerning their health? Would insurance companies have access to this information in deciding coverage rates? Just how are we going to manage all that personal information that is now public? And how does this implicate existing health privacy laws? The study, and its conclusions, raise a lot of questions and concerns about personal privacy and the integrity of that information in the coming years.
Photo from Thos003 via flickr.
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