Your Facebook profile can indicate if you have a medical condition, study finds

Posted at 4:49 AM, Jun 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-18 08:37:00-04

(CNN) — Your social media could reveal a lot more about you than you think.

Say, for example, whether you have a medical condition.

In a new study, researchers were able to predict 21 types of medical conditions -- ranging from pregnancy to skin disorders -- by analyzing people's Facebook profiles.

NATIONAL NEWS | Top headlines across the country

Facebook status updates were "particularly effective at predicting diabetes and mental health conditions including anxiety, depression and psychoses," the study found.

The study will be published June 19 in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published since 2006.

"People's personality, mental state, and health behaviors are all reflected in their social media and all have tremendous impact on health," the study said.

To conduct the study, researchers linked consenting patients' electronic medical records with their social media.

In total, they looked at 949,530 Facebook status updates across 999 participants whose posts were longer than 500 words.

The researchers identified language that likely indicated the characteristic behavior or symptoms of certain diagnoses. For example, posts that mentioned "drink," "drunk" or "bottle" were marked for alcohol abuse.

However, the study warned that predictive words are not necessarily causal mechanisms. Still, the social media patterns do have predictive value and could lead to new possibilities in personalizing health care.

Questions about personal data

"The power of social media language to predict diagnoses raises parallel questions about privacy, informed consent, and data ownership," the researchers wrote.

In recent years, Facebook has come under fire for its practices regarding user privacy. The tech giant earned $56 billion in 2018 by tracking users and using that data to selling targeted advertisements.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged the company's previous struggles with privacy, including the Cambridge Analytica scandal and a security breach that exposed at least 50 million users.

In March, Zuckerberg revealed plans to reposition the company as a "privacy-focused" platform.