• 5Jan

    Understanding impact of health information on social media

    A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) has explored how promotional health information related to Lynch syndrome impacts laypeople’s discussions on a social media platform (Twitter) in terms of topic awareness and attitudes.

    The authors identify that whilst social media is being used by various stakeholders (ie, pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, health care organisations) to engage audiences to raise disease awareness, it is unclear what effects this health information has on laypeople.

    They used topic modeling and sentiment analysis techniques on Lynch syndrome–related tweets to answer the following research questions (RQs):

    1. What are the most discussed topics in Lynch syndrome–related tweets?
    2. How promotional Lynch syndrome–related information on Twitter affects laypeople’s discussions?
    3. What impact do the Lynch syndrome awareness activities in the Colon Cancer Awareness Month and Lynch Syndrome Awareness Day have on laypeople’s discussions and their attitudes?

    The study used a set of keywords to collect Lynch syndrome–related tweets from October 26, 2016 to August 11, 2017 (289 days).

    Of all tweets (N=16,667), 87.38% (14,564/16,667) were related to Lynch syndrome. Of the Lynch syndrome–related tweets, 81.43% (11,860/14,564) were classified as promotional and 18.57% (2704/14,564) were classified as laypeople’s discussions.

    The most discussed themes were treatment (n=4080) and genetic testing (n=3073). The topic distributions in laypeople’s discussions were similar to the distributions in promotional Lynch syndrome–related information.

    Most people had a positive attitude when discussing Lynch syndrome. The proportion of negative tweets was 3.51%. Within each topic, treatment (16.67%) and genetic testing (5.60%) had more negative tweets compared with other topics.

    When comparing monthly trends, laypeople’s discussions had a strong correlation with promotional Lynch syndrome–related information on awareness (r=.98, P<.001), while there were moderate correlations on screening (r=.602, P=.05), genetic testing (r=.624, P=.04), treatment (r=.69, P=.02), and risk (r=.66, P=.03). They also discovered that the Colon Cancer Awareness Month (March 2017) and the Lynch Syndrome Awareness Day (March 22, 2017) had significant positive impacts on laypeople’s discussions and their attitudes.

    The authors conclude there is evidence that participative social media platforms, namely Twitter, offer unique opportunities to inform cancer communication surveillance and to explore the mechanisms by which these new communication media affect individual health behaviour and population health.

    The full study can be accessed on the JMIR website.

    Bian J, Zhao Y, Salloum RG, Guo Y, Wang M, Prosperi M, Zhang H, Du X, Ramirez-Diaz LJ, He Z, Sun Y

    Using Social Media Data to Understand the Impact of Promotional Information on Laypeople’s Discussions: A Case Study of Lynch Syndrome

    J Med Internet Res 2017;19(12):e414