2020 Shortlist

Silent Cries of China’s Depressed Netizens

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: China

Organisation: The Paper, Sixth Tone

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 9 Oct 2019

Credit: Liu Chang, Wang Yasai, Zhang Yijun, Lin Yi, Fu Xiaofan, Lu Yan

Project description:

In March 2012, a Chinese student named Ma Jie, also k published a post on Weibo. “I have depression, so I’ll just go die,” she wrote. The next day, the young woman was found dead at her university in the eastern city of Nanjing. Over the years, Ma’s final post has evolved into a “tree hollow,” or online gathering place for those living with depression. It has received more than 1 million comments. We analyzed more than 50,000 of these comments posted between July 16 and Aug. 16, 2019, in a bid to shed new light on this unique internet

Impact reached:

The project was viewed more than 2 million times on Weibo, and got more than 2000 reposts and likes. 

Techniques/technologies used:

1) data sonification

Ma Jie documented her last years on Weibo. Her posts provide a unique opportunity for us to feel the emotional ups-and-downs of someone struggling with depression and suicidal ideas. In order to give readers a more intuitive idea, Sixth Tone and The Paper did sentiment analysis on all of Ma’s social media posts and then creatively visualized and sonified the results.

2) text analysis

Through a series of striking graphics, we visualized the entire “tree hollow,” including the level of activity of its members, their changing moods, and the connections between them. These innovative techniques bring into sharp relief the continued challenges facing millions of Chinese living with depression: the social isolation, prejudice, and lack of support many experience, as well as the lack of awareness of suicide prevention services.

What was the hardest part of this project?

1. To find this unique sample to shed light on the depression issue in China.

2. Text analysis is no easy task for the Chinese language. We had to test and adjust to make sure the analysis does make sense.

3. It is tough to illustrate all Ma Jie’s posts and the comments under her last post.

What can others learn from this project?

“The Silent Cries of China’s Depressed Netizens” provides an unprecedented glimpse into an important and underreported topic, and is our proud submission for the award.

Project links: