Elizabeth Martin, a researches in the Psychological Science department at the University of Missouri recently completed a study of social networking usage. Martin concluded:
"Therapists could possibly use social media activity to create a more complete clinical picture of a patient... The beauty of social media activity as a tool in psychological diagnosis is that it removes some of the problems associated with patients’ self-reporting. For example, questionnaires often depend on a person’s memory, which may or may not be accurate. By asking patients to share their Facebook activity, we were able to see how they expressed themselves naturally. Even the parts of their Facebook activities that they chose to conceal exposed information about their psychological state.”
Martin had study participants -- about 200 college students -- print out their Facebook activity, and then:
"... correlated aspects of that activity with the degree to which those individuals exhibited schizotypy, a range of symptoms including social withdrawal to odd beliefs. Some study participants showed signs of the schizotypy condition known as social anhedonia, or the inability to experience pleasure from usually enjoyable activities, such as communicating and interacting with others. In the study, people with social anhedonia tended to have fewer friends on Facebook, communicated with friends less frequently and shared fewer photos."
According to Mashable:
"The idea for the study came through a conversation between Martin and the second author, Drew Bailey, who doesn't have a Facebook profile. A discussion arose about profile content and its correlation to psychology."
If therapists and psychologists believe that can tell a person's mental state from their posts on social networking websites, then it is appropriate to assume that other professionals (e.g., insurance, human resource professionals) will also want access to social networking profiles. In other words, some social networking websites may view this as a potnetial, new revenue stream. Credit reporting agencies already want access to consumers' social networking profiles to enhance credit decisions. And in some instances, courts have ruled that your social networking activity can be accessible during a lawsuit.