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Are Your Tweets Feeling Well?

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Health workers could one day use this method to get real-time information about health trends.

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that when visits to certain health clinics for flu-related illnesses rose, opinion and emotion expressed by Twitter users in those regions also changed.

Credit: Eric Francavilla/PNNL

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) conducted a study to understand patterns of how people behave differently on social media when they are ill.

The team found public health trends are more nuanced than simply looking for spikes of expressions of feeling sick, as they uncovered opinion and emotion as a potential signal on Twitter.

"Opinions and emotions are present in every tweet, regardless of whether the user is talking about their health," says PNNL's Svitlana Volkova. "Like a digital heartbeat, we're finding how changes in this behavior relate to health trends in a community."

The researchers studied 171 million tweets from U.S. military and civilian users to determine if the opinions and emotions they express reflect visits to the doctor for influenza-like illnesses, or change based on location or military affiliation. Overall, neutral opinions and sadness were expressed most during high influenza-like illness periods, while positive opinions were expressed more during low illness periods.

From Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
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Abstracts Copyright © 2017 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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