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You are what you tweet: Tracking public health trends with Twitter
Date:7/6/2011

nt. That allowed them to track some trends by time and place, such as when the allergy and flu seasons peaked in various parts of the country. "We were able to see from the tweets that the allergy season started earlier in the warmer states and later in the Midwest and the Northeast," Dredze said.

Dredze and Paul have already begun talking to public health scientists, including some affiliated with Johns Hopkins, who say that future studies of tweets could uncover even more useful data, not only about posters' medical problems but also about public perceptions concerning illnesses, medications and other health issues.

Still, Dredze and Paul cautioned that trying to take the nation's temperature by analyzing tweets has its limitations. For one thing, most Twitter users did not comment more than once on their particular ailment, making it tough to track how long the illness lasted and whether it recurred. In addition, most Twitter users tend to be young, which would exclude many senior citizens from a public health study. Also, at the moment, Twitter is dominated by users who are in the United States, making it less useful for research in other countries.

Although social media sites allow users to expose lots of personal information to friends and strangers, Twitter-based research may only reach a certain depth.

"In our study," Paul said, "we could only learn what people were willing to share. We think there's a limit to what people are willing to share on Twitter."

Nevertheless, Dredze says there is still plenty of useful data left to plumb from Twitter posts. "The people I've talked to have felt this is a really interesting research tool," he said, "and they have some great ideas about what they'd like to learn next from Twitter."


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Contact: Phil Sneiderman
prs@jhu.edu
443-287-9960
Johns Hopkins University
Source:Eurekalert  

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