Like it or not, social media has become a driving force in the way many people get information on health topics.
And Philip Massey, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health, knows that health professionals need to stay current on what’s being talked about.
“It is not a question of, ‘ Are people using social media for health information?’ but rather, ‘How much are people using it and how can we help them find information that is valid and pertinent to their lives?’” Massey said.
With that in mind, Massey decided to lead a study — published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research and supported by a grant from the American Cancer Society — into how people are communicating on Twitter about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. And what he found was actually a little surprising: there was much more positive chatter about the vaccine than negative.
“In our sample, I expected to see a large number of negative tweets based on traditional news coverage of the topic and because HPV can be portrayed as controversial because it brings together the fields of sexually transmitted infections, immunizations and cancer prevention,” Massey said. “But that wasn’t the case on Twitter, we found.”
The vaccine protects against HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, and has been shown to be particularly effective against the strains that lead to potentially lethal cancers, such as cervical cancer. However, a vocal portion of the population has been lashing out — especially online — against the immunization due to perceived side effects.
Massey’s study sought to quantify how much content that negative population might be posting online. And through analyzing nearly 200,000 English-language tweets between the summers of 2014 and 2015, Massey and his team found that the most popular sentiment attached to tweets about the HPV vaccine were positive. Almost 39 percent of tweets gathered were classified as positive, while negative sentiments were detected in just a little more than 25 percent of the tweets analyzed.