According to a CNN article published a couple of weeks ago, researchers are trying to use real time tweets and Facebook posts to map out potential and/or current flu outbreaks. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found a new method for filtering tweets which could make the real-time data pouring in more accurate by using special algorithms, that are able to filter in words like sick, flu, headache, etc.
However, there is room for development. It is very common for the algorithms to associate wrong tweets for instance if it says, “my new car is sick” or “Bieber fever“. Nevertheless, researchers are trying to improve its accuracy and even predict when and where will the next outbreak be. This kind of predictions could be vital for hospitals and clinics as well as for regular people, as a way to prevent and handle situations like getting a flu shot before your community has an outbreak or having enough doctors and nurse staff.
Furthermore, the article also mentions a couple of other apps and search engines such as Google and Germ Tracker who are designed and are helping track and predict future outbreaks. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) also acknowledges that Google’s findings are almost always in line with the CDC’s predictions. This could be another incredible use of social media and help organizations like the CDC to a better job of protecting communities.
My questions for the class are:
1. Can this data be trusted? Don’t we often over exaggerate what is going on in our lives? How accurate can it be?
2. Can this be the beginning of a new liaison between Social Media and the public health industry? Could we predict other things besides illnesses?