Online social networks to help track a pandemic

Added April 3, 2020

Citation: Al-Garadi MA, Khan MS, Varathan KD, et al. Using online social networks to track a pandemic: A systematic review. Journal of Biomedical Informatics 2016 62 1-11

What is this? The popularity of online social networks (e.g. Twitter, Facebook etc) has proliferated the spread of information on COVID-19. Such platforms can also be used to track the spread of infectious diseases in almost real-time and various methodological approaches have been used to detect and track a pandemic using online social networks.

The authors for this systematic review searched for articles on methods to detect and track pandemics of infectious diseases in online social networks. They restricted their search to articles published in English between 2004 and 2015. They identified 20 eligible studies.

What works: Online social network platforms can be used to develop almost real-time surveillance systems of a pandemic.

There was a high correlation between online social networks surveillance systems and traditional, official surveillance systems.

The geographical and temporal data can provide some indication of the spread of the pandemic.

Most studies used Twitter as their data source mainly due to the ability to obtain suitable public data, and the richness of the data can provide a suitable pandemic tracking system.

What doesn’t work: Although these tools can provide complementary data in almost real-time to help track the temporal and geographical spread of a pandemic, they should not be used to replace real-time surveillance systems for a pandemic.

What’s uncertain: It was not possible to collect representative data with sufficient population coverage.


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