Twitter as a Potential Data Source for Cardiovascular Disease Research

In JAMA Cardiology, Lauren Sinnenberg and colleagues, including Alison Buttenheim, David Asch and Raina Merchant, examine whether Twitter, a social media platform for person to person communication, can be used as a data source to study cardiovascular disease. The authors searched through 10 billion Tweets posted from 2009-2015 and extracted 550,338 cardiovascular disease-related Tweets for analysis. In these Tweets, the terms diabetes and myocardial infarction were used more frequently (200,000+ times) than heart failure (9414 times). The authors also found that the users who tweeted about cardiovascular disease were more likely to be older than the general Twitter population (on average, 28.7 years vs 25.4 years), and less likely to be male (47.3% vs 48.8%). Common themes of Tweets included risk factors (41.9%), awareness (23.4%) and management (21.6%) of cardiovascular disease. The authors conclude that Twitter has potential as a data source for studying public communication about cardiovascular health. It reflects real-time discussion of cardiovascular disease, and characterizing the large volume of Tweets by content, style, and sender may help differentiate between signal and noise.