Can we still use Twitter without going psychotic?

new_twitter_logoCan spending too much time reading and writing in 140 characters or less really send you crazy?

A quick glance at news headlines today would have been enough to send every Twitter user into hiding -- "Woman Hospitalised with Twitter Psychosis" and "Twitter can trigger psychosis in users" -- common headers.

The media frenzy was sparked by a study -- Twitter Psychosis A Rare Variation or a Distinct Syndrome? -- from a team of German doctors, which suggested that Twitter may have "a high potential to induce psychosis in predisposed users".

It was based on the case of a woman who developed psychosis at the same time as excessively using Twitter. She reportedly spent several hours a day reading and writing Tweets, ignored friends and occasionally forgot to sleep and eat. She also believed that a famous actor was communicating to her personally and there were hidden symbolic messages in Twitter messages.

The study, published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, identified automated spam responses and interactive features with the social communication tool as key features that could induce or further aggravate psychosis.

Not good reading if you're a prolific Twitter user. But the good news is that one of the doctors who co-authored the report has said claims that Twitter can cause psychosis have been exaggerated and that the report was published to spark a discussion rather than identify an official syndrome.

Dr Jan Kalbitzer from the Charité-Universitätsmedizin hospital in Berlin and co-author of the report, told BetaNews: "The title of our report poses a question which is supposed to provoke colleagues to reply and discuss with us. But based on the evidence we present there, it is not legitimate to speak of 'Twitter Psychosis' as a syndrome yet".

"And the way this is covered by the media is in absolutely no proportion to what we observed. The only thing which is clear is that we need more research on the topic because it seems to be something that hit a nerve. We know much too little about the way modern communication affects our minds".

So Twitter may cause psychosis but no one is quite sure yet. Over the years, mobile phones, TV towers, Wi-Fi signals and radio waves have all been blamed for causing delusional and psychotic behavior -- so hey, why not social media too?

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