Japan has large problem when it comes to suicide. With one of the highest rates in the world, suicide is the leading cause of death in Japanese men between the ages of 20 and 44, and in women between 15 and 34. To compare, the rate of suicide in the United States is roughly 11 deaths for 100,000 people, while in Japan it is 26 per 100,000. The Japanese government now has plans to reduce its rate by 20% before 2017, and that includes studies that look towards social networks and online habits for early warning signs.
There have been too many studies on suicide to count, along with numerous methods and areas of focus. One method that has been largely used in the past is looking at the fact that people with suicidal thoughts are more likely to be socially isolated, meaning fewer friends and fewer connections to other people. But the problem with that way of study these days is that it doesn’t take into account young people’s relationships online, through social networks for example.
Naoki Masuda and a groups of others at the University of Tokyo are looking towards Mixi, Japan’s largest social network, as opposed to the typical school environments. Similar to many other social networks, users can join any number of communities or discussion topics, and as expected, there are several of these focused on suicide. Masuda took 10,000 random members from these communities and compared them to a group of more than 200,000 who did not participate in suicide groups on the network. The research group found that people of both types had around the same number of friends, which isn’t necessarily important, when “friends” are easy to come by online, but they also found that age and gender don’t play as much of a factor online as they do offline.
What Masuda and his companions found were that people who are more prone to suicidal thoughts are often members of a higher number of community groups, signifying that they spend more time online than most, and are looking for more ways to connect with other people online. Other scientists say that there is still much to do in studying suicide with data from social networks, and there remain large gaps in how online and offline behaviors are connected. However this revelation is big step forward into something relatively unexplored, and has great potential. Information from social networks can reveal user’s thoughts and behaviors over a long period of time, and could lead to a better understanding of the factors that influence suicidal thoughts.
[Viayou Technology Review]
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