Newswise — NORMAN, OKLAHOMA – Did you ever consider that your tweets could be used for scientific research? Researchers at the University of Oklahoma are taking to the Twitterverse to help them investigate the use of Twitter for public health research.

Christan Grant, a computer science researcher in the Gallogly College of Engineering, is asking active Twitter users over the age of 18 to complete a quick two-minute online survey.

“The sheer volume and unfiltered comments on Twitter gives researchers insight on health issues, such as disease spread or level of understanding about health issues,” Grant explained. “The downside is that it doesn’t track demographics.” That can be a problem when a health researcher is trying to track something like an outbreak and can’t isolate contributing factors.

For several years, researchers and health officials have been using social media, crowd-sourced reporting and other online sources to monitor disease spread, gauge population attitudes toward health campaigns, and improve the understanding of behavioral changes and health.

Grant’s research partner, Elaine Nsoesie, an assistant professor of global health at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, recently used Facebook, Yelp and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports to investigate a foodborne illness. Since Twitter is not designed to capture user demographics or behavior, it makes it harder to rely on the 5,000 million tweets posted daily.

Grant and his team will compile the Twitter information, compare it to CDC results and trends on other social media sites, and eventually use that data to help corroborate information that researchers can use to improve public health initiatives.

“We want to improve the way public health researchers use Twitter as way to learn – and eventually improve – the health of the American public,” Grant said. “The more people who participate, the better we can become at identifying short-term health risks, such as a foodborne illness, and assessing such long-term health needs as chronic disease prevalence.

The study is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.




The Gallogly College of Engineering at the University of Oklahoma challenges students to solve the world’s toughest problems through a powerful combination of education, entrepreneurship, research, community service and student competitions. Research is focused on both basic and applied topics of societal significance, including biomedical engineering, energy, engineering education, civil infrastructure, nanotechnology and weather technology.

The programs within the college’s eight areas of study are consistently ranked in the top third of engineering programs in the United States. The college faculty has achieved research expenditures of more than $22 million and created 12 start-up companies.