Research Looks at the Role of Social Media in an Epidemic
Social media is often the home of the trite and pointless, whether it's playing Farmville on Facebook or sharing your lunch on Twitter. Even when people attempt to do good things, it often falls into the trap of mere slacktavism, that whilst well intentioned achieves little of practical use.
New research by Kansas State University attempts to change this. The researchers are looking to analyze data entered into Twitter to both reduce the spread of disease, and indeed prevent outbreaks to begin with.
"Infectious diseases are a serious problem and historically have been a major cause of death," said Faryad Sahneh, Kansas State University doctoral candidate in electrical engineering who is modeling the spread of epidemics in an effort to reduce them. "During the last decades there has been a huge advancement in medication and vaccination, which has helped save many peoples' lives. But now there also has been a revolution in communication and information technology that we think could be used to develop an even more robust preventative society against infectious diseases."
The researchers are hoping to discover whether a well timed tweet from a prominent individual can be as effective at reducing the spread of infection as more traditional measures such as flu vaccinations or personal hygiene advice.
The research arrives in the same week as similar research by the UK government office for science (embedded below) into how social media can help reduce the risk of disasters preventing and spreading.
It discusses how government and non-government organizations are using data we're submitting to gauge the spread of infections. Google's Flu Map is a good example of the use of public information to determine the spread of infection.
Twitter has also been used, with a trial study conducted that analyzed tweets over several months to determine the spread of the H1N1 virus. The outcomes were compared with official predictions by the Health Protection Agency, with positive results.
Suffice to say that utilising social media to determine the spread of infection has a number of challenges, not least determining the accuracy of what is posted and having the technical ability to deal with the volume of information.
It does however provide an interesting new weapon in the armory of mankind as we look to combat disasters around the world.