Twitter offers data grants to three health-related projects

By Aditi Pai
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TwitterHappiness_800 Researchers for UCSD's Happiness study

Earlier this year, Twitter announced that it would provide six data grants to researchers looking to access its vast archives for big data insights. Last week, Twitter selected six proposals out of the 1,300 entries and three teams, HealthMaps, University of Twente, and UCSD, had health-related projects.

HealthMaps is a project from Boston Children's Hospital that aims to mine data for food borne gastrointestinal illness surveillance. Another, from University of Twente in the Netherlands wants to study the effectiveness of public health campaigns for the early detection of cancer, and the third from UCSD is researching whether happy people take happy pictures.

HealthMaps also recently teamed up with Merck to turn Twitter and Facebook into a new source for sleep health data, specifically data about how many people in a population suffer from insomnia and what they have in common with each other. For that project, Brownstein and his team will take publicly available data from Twitter and Facebook, including post content, frequency, user analytics, and demographic information to determine which social media users are likely suffering from sleep deprivation. They’ll then compare that group to the larger social media population and look for risk factors for insomnia.

Researchers from the University of Twente will use Twitter's public data to study the diffusion process and effectiveness of public health campaigns for the early detection of cancer, University of Twente researcher Djoerd Hiemstra told MobiHealthNews in an email.

The team will analyze popular Twitter campaigns covering different types of cancer and geographical scopes through hashtags, for example #Mamming (breast cancer), #Movember (prostate cancer), #DaveDay (pancreatic cancer), and #HPVReport (cervical cancer). Hiemstra also said the analysis will reveal if the campaigns led to word-of-mouth discussion, promotion and responses. Finally Hiemstra will look at the frequency of mentions for their campaigns to gauge how effective they were.

The third project is run by a team of researchers from the University of California San Diego and The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY). Researchers will study if it's possible to accurately measure the overall happiness of a city based on what images users in the area share on Twitter.

“Can visual characteristics of images shared on social media tell us something about the ‘moods’ of cities?” principal investigator Mehrdad Yazdani said in a blog post on the Calit2 website. “We will analyze one million tweeted images over the course of one year in specific U.S. cities, and test for correlations with other measures of happiness in the same cities.”