An Online Lifeline

Web Brands Tackle Health Issues

Fitness tracking and wellness are one of the latest trends in tech, and Internet companies aren’t shying away from the opportunity. Crowd-sourced data and clever tools are helping users keep themselves healthy.

Last month, Facebook introduced a suicide prevention tool in the US on its fifth Compassion Research Day as a result of collaboration with mental health bodies Forefront, Now Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and The feature allows users to flag concerning posts by friends, leading Facebook’s team to review the content and offer a variety of support options to the author if deemed necessary.

It’s a positive step, but an issue that some feel Facebook should have tackled sooner — it’s been questioned whether browsing rather than creating content leads to feelings of loneliness and envy, undermining the site’s social function. The company also received backlash last year after its involvement in the study of emotion contagion came to light, in which certain users were exposed to fewer positive or negative posts to test if this could affect the content they published themselves.

However, manipulation of timelines can be in the name of more-obvious good. In 2014, Alzheimer’s Research UK released a Web application to raise awareness of dementia. Users were invited to connect through Facebook to watch important updates in their in-app feed fade away, mimicking what it’s like to suffer the disease.

Facebook isn’t the only Web player making health-related moves. A number of organisations have begun to inspect patterns in social media with a view to “revolutionise” health information, and studies suggest it’s possible to garner accurate stats this way. The likes of HealthMap collect data from a number of sources to track the progression of illnesses around the world, and Crowdbreaks offers “disease surveillance” by monitoring keywords and hashtags specifically on Twitter.

Google is utilising its Knowledge Graph to do its bit. The company’s most recent initiative involved working with a team of health professionals to optimise its search results for medical information, giving users a concise overview of relevant conditions — including symptoms and treatments — along with the Web addresses.

Fitness apps and tracking bands are making it big, but Web companies are playing their part in the digitisation of well-being.



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