Twitter data could be used to prevent HIV?

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Twitter and other social media which provide real-time data could be used to identify and target potential outbreaks of HIV, according to a new study from UCLA.

Researchers gathered 550 million tweets over a six and a half month period, and used an algorithm to identify tweets about potentially risky sexual behaviors or drug use, two behaviors linked with the transmission of infectious diseases. The locations of the tweets were then plotted on a map, and compared to geographic data of HIV cases. They found a significant relationship between the locations of the tweets and the counties with high numbers of HIV cases.

“This is the first study to suggest that Twitter can be used to predict people's health-related behaviors and as a method for monitoring HIV risk behaviors and drug use," study researcher Sean Young, assistant professor of family medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and co-director of the Center for Digital Behavior at UCLA, was quoted as saying.

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