Twitter Helps Unearth Our Health Misconceptions

Twitter Helps Unearth Our Health Misconceptions

To get a feel for what society's health is like, you would probably talk to a doctor or log on to the health department's website. Or, you could just check Twitter.

Two computer scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore examined 1.5 million tweets related to health between May 2009 and October 2010, and found that the popular microblogging website portrayed the ills that plague us and the treatments sought as a result, BBC News reported.

The analysis also showed that a lot of people are misguided about the right treatments for their ailments.

For example, "we found that some people tweeted that they were taking antibiotics for the flu," Ph.D. student Michael J. Paul, one of the researchers for the project, told BBC News. "But antibiotics don't work on the flu, which is a virus, and this practice could contribute to the growing antibiotic resistance problems."

Paul and his colleague Mark Dredze formulated a system that filtered out irrelevant Tweets, and found that the most commonly Tweeted ills included allergies, depression, cancer, obesity, insomnia and pain, Fox News reported.

And for 200,000 of those Tweets, the researchers were able to deduce geographic information for the user to see how flu and allergy seasons peaked across the United States, the Daily Mail reported.

However, the researchers warned that only very shallow, base-level information about health could probably be garnered from Twitter.

"We could only learn what people were willing to share," Paul told the Daily Mail. "We think there's a limit to what people are willing to share on Twitter."

A few random examples we pulled together:

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