Tweet, Twitter, Treatment?

Is Twitter more than just another annoying way to irritate people on your profile?  Or can it actually be achieving something productive and useful?  Apparently, according to American researchers, the latter.  In a recent Daily Mail article it was reported that Tweets are now being used to “monitor what illnesses people are suffering from, which medicines they are taking and whether they are treating themselves correctly – or at all.”

Mark Dredze and Michael Paul, computers scientists from John Hopkins University, set about analyzing Tweets.  They looked at a staggering 1.5m of them that were posted between May 2009 and October 2010 on health subjects.  According to Dredze, the main aim of the project was to illicit whether or not these posts could be a helpful public health information source.  They found that they were.  “In some cases,” reported Dredze, “we probably learned some things that even the tweeters’ doctors were not aware of, like which over-the-counter medicines the posters were using to treat their symptoms at home.”

The researchers developed a system that categorized the health-related tweets into subjects such as flu, insomnia, cancer, allergies, etc.  Dredze believes theirs was the first Tweet study to “look at as many health issues as we did.”

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The results of Dredze and Paul’s findings will be put together for the International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence).



James Fishman has been involved in the world of online magazines for more than 15 years. He helped launch Sunstone Online and continues to improve the magazine as site editor and administrator. His writing focuses primarily business and technology. To be in touch with James, feel free to contact him at james[at]

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