Twitter has been said to be a lot of things, from a micro blogging site where people express their thoughts in a few words or more recently the social media platform for trolls and cyber bullies. But a recent study has called it a place which can help in predicting the rise of influenza, depression or other health issues.
A recent study published in journal EPJ Data Science analysed millions of anonymous tweets has revealed that people expressing opinions and emotions on the social media site can signal health issues.
“Opinions and emotions are present in every tweet, regardless of whether the user is talking about their health,” said lead author Svitlana Volkova, a data scientist at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Washington.
The research pointed out that using conventional methods it takes weeks for a public health worker to discover influenza trends.
However, with the use of real-time tools such as monitoring social media could be a game changer for public health workers as it quicker and more efficient than monitoring how many sick people visit the clinic.
“Like a digital heartbeat, we’re finding how changes in this behaviour relate to health trends in a community,” Volkova added
The PNNL looked for patterns of how people’s posts showcased a different behaviour from their usual ones when they were sick or facing emotional hardships.
The research team analysed 171 million tweets from users associated with the US military to find out whether or not the opinions and emotions expressed were related to the number of times the Twitter user visited the hospital for influenza-like illness.
They compared military and civilian users from 25 US and six international locations to see if this pattern varies based on location or military affiliation. Researchers found out that people’s behaviour changes drastically based on their location and groups.
The researchers found out that when users are suffering from illness, they tend to tweet more neutral or sad opinions and emotions and when they’re not, positive or angry opinion and emotions find their way into the tweets.
Earlier this month, a study called Twitter a great avenue to find crime patterns and avert them before they happen. Another similar study pointed out the relation with ‘dark’ Instagram posts and its relation with mental health.