Social networking site Twitter could be used as a tool for detecting psychopaths with researchers currently examining thousands of tweets to check whether such a method could be effective.
Researchers from the Online Privacy Foundation, Kaggle.com, Florida Atlantic University and elsewhere examined the tweets of almost 3,000 Twitter users.
They gave them personality tests and even analyzed the tweets of nearly 3,000 individuals.
Participants first took a personality test, and then voluntarily allowed researchers to examine all aspects of their tweets: what words they used, how long their posts were, how often they tweeted, how many retweets and replies they received, and what they listed in their profiles as well as their Klout scores.
The information was analyzed by data scientists competing against each other to come up with the best solution using predictive modeling.
On the heels of a research paper about the possibility of predictive identification of psychopaths based on their language patterns, the researchers at the Foundation realized there was particular public interest in whether Twitter could be used to identify psychopaths, so they decided to make this the focus of their work.
In a blog post about their research, they even reveal they playfully drew the title for their DefCon talk from a news article written on the subject: "Can twitter help expose psychopath killers' traits?"
But despite this title, their answer is much more complicated than the question implies.
"Our research suggests that social media profiling can provide an advantage to determining personality types; certainly more than the toss of a coin provides," the New York Daily News quoted co-founder Chris Sumner as writing in a blog post on its website.
"Our initial research shows that social profiling can provide a bigger edge than we expected. However, these edges are certainly not definitive or concrete," he said.
Noting that the term "psychopathy" refers to a "scale from low to severe, a line on which all of us fit somewhere," the researchers said everyone in their sample fell somewhere on the spectrum.
"You can have psychopathic traits without being a psychopath," Sumner told the Daily News in an e-mail on Tuesday.
"That said, those who scored higher, may be at or approaching psychopath. I really can't stress MAY enough though," he said.
Red flags include the expression of swearing, anger and negative emotions, Sumner said.
Medically, only 1 percent of the population fits the technical definition of a "psychopath." Of the Foundation's 2,927 person sample, 41 scored on the "extreme edge" of that scale.
The findings of the study will be presented at hacker conference DefCon on July 29 in Las Vegas, Nevada.