This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Twitter and the Flu

No, I don't mean that you are going to get the flu by tweeting. What I mean is that my colleague Dr. Ming-Hsiang Tsou here in the SDSU Department of Geography is working on an algorithm to track the spread of flu by monitoring Twitter traffic. The story is reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune:
San Diego State geographer Ming-Hsiang Tsou is testing new computer algorithms that spot key words — such as “flu” — appearing on the social-media website from users in the nation’s 30 largest cities, including San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The algorithms also are designed to recognize when people are saying they’re suffering from the flu, rather than simply mentioning the ailment.
“We’re looking for a correlation between the key words and actual reported cases on flu,” said Tsou, whose research is part of a long-term project harnessing social media to help health officials and emergency responders. He’ll soon begin advising the county on how it might monitor and use social media more effectively for natural disasters, such as an earthquake or a major storm.
Social media helped to bring about the spread of pro-democracy sentiment that created the Arab Spring. It is only reasonable, then, that tracking the spread of disease should also be possible through social media. Remember to tweet next time you feel sick. We need good data.

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