Can you crowdsource health information via Twitter?


According to two researchers from John Hopkins University, the answer is yes – with some effort.

They analyzed more than two billion tweets for health-related terms and say their research shows Twitter can be a valuable source of public-health information about a wide range of ailments.

The study, A Model for Mining Public Health Topics from Twitter, (download the pdf here), started with tweets posted to Twitter between 5/09 – 10/10. The two men – Mark Dredze, a researcher at the university’s Human Language Technology Center and Michael J. Paul, a doctoral student – then used a software algorithm to filter out approximately 1.5 million messages that referred to health-related issues, by focusing on a variety of terms related to medical issues and illnesses.

Said Dredze “we determined that indeed Twitter posts could be a useful source of public health information. In some cases, we probably learned some things that even the tweeters’ doctors were not aware of, like which OTC medicines the posters were using to treat their symptoms at home.” One example being “Had to pop a Benadryl … allergies are the worst.”

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