Creating a happier humanity.
MOTI is being developed using the following remarkable technologies.
MOTI Software is a Global Mental Health Initiative.
Mental health is in decline across the planet. This unfortunate phenomenon can likely be attributed to a number of factors, such as the psychological impact of natural disasters, war, political oppression, discrimination, overpopulation, isolation and so on. Although there are more obvious offenders within the long list of potential influences, the role of the internet cannot be understated.
We live in a time when access to the internet has become ubiquitous in most developed nations. People quite literally live online via social networks and mass media. Furthermore, the multicultural importance of being able to share and comment on content via multiple platforms has changed the way that information is presented online, possibly to the point that the entire internet could be considered a social network itself. As online content has grown to become more intertwined with day-to-day life, so has its ability to inflict mass psychological damage.
The internet has the potential to elicit both positive and negative emotions (1). The “information superhighway” is literally just that; infrastructure. It should be recognized as a valuable tool that makes it possible for almost anyone to access massive amounts of content and to take part in a wide variety of social interactions. The problem arises when there is little thought or oversight given to the impact that online materials and activities can have on the human psyche. Modern content blockers are of little use because they tend to rely on outdated categorizations that were based on subjective moral grounds instead of research. The situation is compounded by legitimate concerns about censorship and a general reluctance to acknowledge the damage being done.
Objective scientific findings strongly suggest that the issue requires our immediate attention. For example, exposure to hate speech on the internet is increasing (8). Just two years ago, nearly half the population of American internet users could be expected to come across hatred in their daily online routine (7). This level of exposure (which has almost certainly risen since the cited study was conducted) is disturbing and potentially catastrophic to the collective internet psyche. Online hate can be as psychologically damaging as “real life” hate crimes and even indirect victims of cyberhate (non-targets who come upon the material) report experiencing distress at levels similar to witnesses of physical hate crimes (5).
Oddly, there has been little research completed to date on the emotional effects of internet content. The most relevant existing studies tend to focus on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. However, as discussed above, the entire internet may very well be considered a social network in modern context, so these findings likely still have a large amount of applicability to the average user’s overall online experience. To say that the literature paints a bleak picture would be a gross understatement. Social networks have become so volatile that even professional therapists are abandoning ship (6). Younger people appear to be especially vulnerable to emotional abuse online, as cyberbullying via social networks has been linked with psychological distress and suicidal ideation in teens (14).
In one study, the use of Facebook was followed by a marked drop in self-assessed psychological well-being (10). However, it is unlikely that the existence of the network itself is to blame, since (like the internet itself) it mostly consists of infrastructure. The key lies in the immense power of the content that is being presented. A huge Facebook study published in 2014 demonstrated that content on the social network was capable of facilitating emotional contagion from poster to viewer, even without direct interaction between them (9). The findings were true for both positive and negative moods. This presents somewhat of a paradox. Since user mood decreases in response to negative content on social networks (11), we should theoretically already be averse to such materials via classical conditioning. Yet, research has found that negative content is interacted with at significantly higher rates than positive alternatives (12). We literally cannot seem to help ourselves.
A Potential Solution
Experts agree that it is necessary to innovate mental health initiatives that not only take our level of exposure to internet content into account, but actually utilize it (3). MOTI (Mood of the Internet) software is currently being developed by ECTOgroup Canada as a way for people to protect their own psychological health from emotionally toxic (hate, discrimination, excessive negativity, etc.) content. The underlying concept is simple: use the globally social nature of today’s internet to collect information directly from the users about how specific content affects their mood, then build a filter-based browser plugin/addon that reduces and ideally eliminates exposure to items that pose a threat to their psychological health.
Data collection will be supported by a vigorous social media campaign, along with the deployment of MOTI tools for network administrators that will motivate them to solicit ratings about their own content from visitors. This system is designed to minimize the bias problems that would be caused by having a small number of raters (2), since the majority of data would come from a highly diverse population of internet users. Consideration is also being given to several other potential sources of interference. This approach is inspired by traditional experimental design methods.
Many aspects of the MOTI software are informed by the scientific method; as many as possible in fact. Evidence suggests that there is promise in the field of web-delivered mental health interventions, but only if the tools can demonstrate empirical benefits in random and controlled experimental trials (4). ECTOgroup understands the importance of scientific scrutiny in establishing the validity of their products and therefore intends to initiate cooperative projects with the local academic community. Applying and maintaining a scholarly approach will also inspire regular improvements and should ensure that the software consistently evolves.
With Considerable Challenges
ECTOgroup acknowledges that many potential barriers will need to be overcome in order for the MOTI software to have any measure of success. Safeguards will undoubtedly be needed to thwart malicious submission activities (like fake ratings) that threaten to invalidate the data. Collecting a large number of ratings from a diverse user-base will be necessary before the mainstream software can be deemed suitable for release. The underlying programming may take considerable time and money to reach an acceptable level of quality and scalability. These are just a few of the glaring threats to the success of the project. Less obvious issues will also arise. For example, the presence of a visible mood rating on news articles was found to result in less positive reactions to human interest stories (13), suggesting that unexpected nuances that will have to be taken into account as they are discovered.
Not too long ago, it would have been inconceivable to design a mental health initiative that could impact billions of people. The internet of today has made this possible, albeit as a direct response to a problem that also would not have existed without it. If MOTI software is competently engineered and successfully deployed to the public then it may be possible to systematically reduce the influence of emotionally toxic online materials and even reverse some of the damage by raising the odds of exposure to psychologically beneficial content.
Clearly, this is a huge undertaking that is by no means guaranteed to succeed as a consumer product. Skilled individuals will need to be recruited for all parts of the operation (business development and tech especially). It is, however, fairly safe to say that the theories on which MOTI is structured are academically sound and should continue to be so under the current project design. Despite the many known and yet to be discovered challenges, the potential benefit of MOTI to global mental health is significant enough to move forward.
- Baker, D. A., & Algorta, G. P. (2016). The relationship between online social networking and depression: a systematic review of quantitative studies. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 19(11), 638-648.
- Binns, R., Veale, M., Van Kleek, M., & Shadbolt, N. (2017, September). Like trainer, like bot? Inheritance of bias in algorithmic content moderation. In International Conference on Social Informatics (pp. 405-415). Springer, Cham.
- deVries, M. W. (2014). Retooling for wellbeing: Media and the public's mental health. In F. A. Huppert, C. L. Cooper, F. A. Huppert, C. L. Cooper (Eds.) , Interventions and policies to enhance well-being (pp. 511-540). Wiley-Blackwell.
- Enock, P. M., & McNally, R. J. (2014). How mobile apps and other web-based interventions can transform psychological treatment and the treatment development cycle. The Behavior Therapist, 37(3), 56-66.
- Fearn, Harriet (2017) The impacts of cyberhate. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.
- Glyde, T. (2014). Social media: Toxified by rage. The Lancet Psychiatry, 1(5), 337-338.
- Hawdon, J., Oksanen, A., & Räsänen, P. (2017). Exposure to online hate in four nations: A cross-national consideration. Deviant behavior, 38(3), 254-266.
- Kaakinen, M., Oksanen, A., & Räsänen, P. (2017). Did the Risk of Exposure to Online Hate Increase After the November 2015 Paris Attacks? A Group Relations Approach. Computers in Human Behavior.
- Kramer, A. I., Guillory, J. E., & Hancock, J. T. (2014). Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks. PNAS Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America, 111(24), 8788-8790. doi:10.1073/pnas.1320040111
- Kross, E., Verduyn, P., Demiralp, E., Park, J., Lee, D. S., Lin, N., ... & Ybarra, O. (2013). Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being in young adults. PloS one, 8(8), e69841.
- Mayshak, R., Sharman, S. J., & Zinkiewicz, L. (2016). The impact of negative online social network content on expressed sentiment, executive function, and working memory. Computers in Human Behavior, 65, 402-408.
- Mayshak, R., Sharman, S. J., Zinkiewicz, L., & Hayley, A. (2017). The influence of empathy and self-presentation on engagement with social networking website posts. Computers in Human Behavior, 71, 362-377.
- Myrick, J. G., & Wojdynski, B. W. (2016). Moody news: The impact of collective emotion ratings on online news consumers’ attitudes, memory, and behavioral intentions. New Media & Society, 18(11), 2576-2594.
- 14. Sampasa-Kanyinga, H., & Hamilton, H. A. (2015). Social networking sites and mental health problems in adolescents: The mediating role of cyberbullying victimization. European Psychiatry, 30(8), 1021-1027.