University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Social Psychology Seminar Series (SPSS) > The Role of Social Media in Health Prediction and Prevention: Digital Methods in Public Health and Behavior Change

The Role of Social Media in Health Prediction and Prevention: Digital Methods in Public Health and Behavior Change

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Social media platforms offer tremendous potential in the study of communication and behavior change. How can digital traces of behavior be used to infer information about a community’s health and how can social media increase the reach of health campaigns? Social media are used by a rising number of people to share their thoughts and feelings with a wider audience and the events that they describe and the language that they use can be reflection of the community they live in, including the health challenges they are facing. Our team therefore used Twitter data to derive geospatial online risk indices of sexually transmitted infections in the United States. These indices were able to predict the annual rates of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV infections in a given county. In addition, health practitioners are increasingly taking to social media to disseminate health information and prevention campaigns. We analyzed which features allowed their HIV -related messages to be retweeted more often, resulting in wider dissemination of the information. Based on these results, we propose a set of five social media guidelines for health messages.

I am a social psychologist whose work focuses on communication and behavior change, particularly in the health domain. I recently received my PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and will next join the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. Part of my work evaluates the potential of social media to improve population health. In a second program of research, I have examined trajectories of behavior change across time, comparing the motivational and behavioral consequences of preferences for radical versus step-wise change.

This talk is part of the Social Psychology Seminar Series (SPSS) series.

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