Twitter could prevent spread of HIV, researchers suggest

The study of around 10,000 random tweets showed California, Texas, New York and Florida had the largest proportion HIV-risk tweets

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Tracking users’ tweets could be used to monitor risky behaviors linked to the spread of HIV, U.S.-based scientists have said. According to their study, Twitter can be used to predict outbreaks of the disease.

The social media mammoth is already used by millions of users worldwide to share their thoughts and photos, this affords researchers the ability to track trends and behaviors in real-time, including HIV risk behaviors.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) examined around 10,000 tweets and mapped their real-time locations. They collected more than 550 million tweets for the study in 2012, and developed an algorithm to highlight keywords, including “sex” and “get high.”

Scientists then merged the data with an online mapping method that shows the locations of HIV and AIDS cases in the United States, to compare the “risky” tweets to the locations of HIV cases in the country.
The comparison showed a “significant positive relationship” between the two, leading the UCLA team to suggest social media can be used to prevent and detect HIV.

The study revealed that California, Texas, New York and Florida had the largest proportion of tweets suggesting HIV risk.

Meanwhile Washington, DC, Louisiana, South Carolina and Delaware had the highest per capita levels of the “risky” tweets.
How did they do it?

The tweets with “risky” keywords were collected between May to December 2012. According to the study, only posts by Twitter accounts that had enabled the geo-location function were included.

The tweets were then filtered and checked manually to ensure that the key words, such as “sex” and “get high,” were in fact in the right context.

Researches then checked the HIV prevalence rates in those cities with a high number of “risky” tweets.