Twitter could be lifesaving

We all have that one friend who overshares everything on social media. Every meal, every thought, every action is posted for the whole world to see. Does it get annoying? Yes. But a new study, soon to be published, may argue that this bad habit could actually be useful.

Yes, many of the tweets out there saying things like, “My leg hurts so bad, I think I’m going to die,” can be written off as melodramatic. Researchers at the University of Arizona, however, believe these seemingly whiny tweets shouldn’t be ignored. They decided to try to prove a direct connection between Twitter and trips to the emergency room. During their experiment, they chose to stick with a small population- asthmatics. The researchers searched for keywords on Twitter related to asthma, such as “inhaler.” After compiling a list of tweets, they compared the areas in which the keywords were trending with air quality reports from the Environmental Protection Agency and numbers gathered from the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, Texas.

One member of the study, Sudha Ram, said, “We noticed that people were tweeting about and talking a lot about their asthma symptoms. There were even parents tweeting about how they got calls from their child’s teacher saying their child was having breathing problems.”

Using this method, the research team concluded that they could predict emergency room visits with 70 percent accuracy. On this, Ram stated, “One of the challenges for this hospital and other hospitals is being able to predict how many people with various chronic conditions will show up on different days.” She explains that with their research, she and her team will be able to help those hospitals so that they will be better equipped to handle mass amounts of patients.

The University of Arizona’s researchers aren’t the only academics to be investigating the correlation between social media and predicting health concerns.

Back in January, a research team out of the University of Pennsylvania used Twitter to predict rates of heart disease. The team realized that negativity and stress can often be a huge factor in getting heart disease, while happiness can lower the risk. Like the University of Arizona, they relied on chronic over-sharers to conduct their research. Since so many people have become comfortable with sharing their innermost thoughts on Twitter, the researchers were able to find where the happiest, saddest, and angriest people resided. They used keywords such as “wonderful” and “friends” as well as “hate” and profanities to determine which areas seemed more at risk of heart disease. After collecting their data, the research team created a county-by-county, color-coded map of the United States. The greener the area, the less likely the population was to become afflicted with heart disease; the redder the area, the greater the chances. The map created by the researchers was compared to a map that was actually created to reflect deaths due to heart disease. The maps ended up looking almost identical, showing that researchers were on to something big- not only could dangerous diseases be predicted due to location, but also that a little positivity could save a life.

As social media becomes more and more influential in the lives of modern Americans, these studies show that it may become entirely possible to use the lifestyle of over-sharing to actually help people.