As posting online becomes an essential part of life for many people, more scientists are looking at what social media can tell them about health habits and trends. Last week, researchers published a study of mood levels measured by analyzing Tweets from around the world. Google analyzed what users searched to track and report flu activity in Google Flu Trends.
But Gualtieri said when it comes to tackling health problems with college students, social media isn't necessarily the best place to start.
"I would personally hesitate to use social media tools to investigate a student's health or emotional problems," Gualtieri said. "It seems like there are a wealth of more traditional ways of detecting problems among students," like class absences or poor grades.
Moreno said the goal of her study wasn't to encourage university officials to stalk students' drinking habits on Facebook. But she said social media tools could be a valuable way to reach students who weren't willing to report their problems with alcohol on their own.
"Most college students are going to balk at being approached by a stranger about their drinking. The most helpful approaches are going to be by someone in that student's trusted circle," Moreno said. "Often that cool aunt or uncle who is the student's Facebook friend, or even other college friends or an RA [Resident Advisor] will be in the best position to help."