How Tweeting and Posting Might Help Save Lives

By Sumedha Sahay

Although social media is used for entertainment and communication, a recent study at the School of Public Health at Georgia State University suggests that it can be of even greater importance. Dr. Gerardo Chowell, an assistant professor in the field of biostatistics and epidemiology at Georgia State, and his research team conducted a study indicating that social media can be helpful in identifying and forecasting infectious disease outbreaks. Furthermore, social media is particularly helpful in forecasting patterns in the transmission of the disease during the early stages of an outbreak when mathematical models are hard to accurately formulate since there isn’t enough reliable data available. Because accurate mathematical models cannot be formed and it is important to procure as much information as possible about a disease in the early stage of its outbreak, Dr. Chowell and his team looked into social media as a possible form of information that could be helpful. In order to determine how reliable social media can be, the research team looked into posts by public health authorities and reliable media sources during the Ebola epidemic of 2014-15 in West Africa as well as the disease outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in South Korea during 2015. Dr. Chowell’s researchers gathered information on the diseases’ patterns and transmissions using the posts they looked into. As a result, they found the social media posts and reports about families, funerals, and exposure through hospitals that were useful in identifying clusters of disease cases in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. The researchers determined that identifying and using patterns in social media leads to information that is useful in figuring out how the effects of control measures and behavior may vary during an epidemic.


Georgia State University. (2017, January 19). Study uses social media, internet to forecast disease outbreaks. ScienceDaily.