HPI Digital Health Cluster


Press release

Illuminate the dark with your social media data

Social interactions play an important role in our mental health. Scientists from the Digital Health Center at the Hasso Plattner Institute are developing digital measurement tools to better understand these interactions. In a current study, they explore whether the embeddedness of people into their social environment can be measured by utilizing their social media data. On the website socialdata.hpsgc.de the researchers call for participation.

Researchers and clinicians often measure social integration of a person by using questionnaires. "Such self-reports can be biased," says Hanna Drimalla, a post-doctoral researcher at the HPI Digital Health Center and lead of the study. "We're working on digital measurement tools with which we analyze interaction data from online services such as WhatsApp or Facebook for characteristic patterns. Since many people regularly interact with others via online services, these methods may offer a more reliable measurement of social inclusion than questionnaires. Our goal is to find out which patterns in online interactions are closely related to feelings of loneliness or psychological well-being."

To obtain precise study results, the researchers need a large amount of data. "Especially in times of social distancing, as we are currently experiencing with the COVID 19 pandemic, studies that investigate depression and loneliness are essential," says Erwin Böttinger, head of the HPI Digital Health Center. "Drimalla and her team are breaking new ground in digital health with those digital measurement tools.”

Participation is open for everybody by anonymously donating her or his messaging data from the social media networks Facebook and/or WhatsApp. The content of the messages will not be transmitted. In addition, several online questionnaires must be filled out. As a gesture of appreciation, participants receive feedback to their online interaction behavior and social embeddedness and the results of the various questionnaires on mental well-being. "Of course, the study does not replace medical or psychological diagnostics. But the participants not only help research, they can also get meaningful insights about themselves," says Drimalla.

The study platform was developed by D4L data4life gGmbH