Social networks could be used to track disease outbreaks

Social media could be used to track an event or phenomenon, such as flu outbreaks and rainfall rates, according to new research.

Social networks, such as Facebook and microblogging services like Twitter, have only been around for a short time but in that time they have provided shapshots of real life by forming, electronically, public expression and interaction.

The research by Professor Nello Cristianini and Vasileios Lampos at the University of Bristol`s Intelligent Systems Laboratory, geo-tagged user posts on the microblogging service of Twitter as their input data to investigate two case studies.

The first case study looked at levels of rainfall in a given location and time using the content of tweets. The second case study collected regional flu-like illness rates from tweets to find out if an epidemic was emerging.

The research demonstrated a tool, the Flu Detector, which uses the content of Twitter to map current flu rates in several UK regions.

`Twitter, in particular, encouraged their 200 million users worldwide to make their posts, commonly known as tweets, publicly available as well as tagged with the user`s location,` said Professor Nello Cristianini.

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