Twitter May Serve as a Good Forum For Acne

May 18, 2013
Research Letter Suggests Twitter May Serve as a Good Forum For Communicating Information About Acne

A research letter by Kamal Jethwani, M.D., M.P.H., of the Center for Connected Health, Boston, and colleagues suggests that clinicians can learn about the perceptions and misconceptions of diseases like acne via Twitter, and communicate reliable medical information on the popular social media platform.

Using a form of real-time data capture through the use of the Twitter Streaming Application Programming Interface (API), researchers collected all tweets that contained one or more of 5 keywords: pimple, pimples, zit, zits and acne for a 2-week period in June 2012. High-impact tweets, defined as tweets with one or more retweets, were the only tweets examined.

High-impact tweets were frequency weighted by retweet count and categorized by content into 4 main categories: personal, celebrity, education, and irrelevant/excluded. The education category was subdivided into: disease question, disease information, treatment question, treatment information (branded), treatment information (non-branded), and treatment information (ambiguous).

There were a total of 8,192 English high-impact tweets of a total of 392,617 tweets collected. Personal tweets about acne were the most common type of high-impact tweets (43.1 percent), followed by tweets about celebrities (20.4 percent) and then education-related tweets (27.1 percent); 9.4 percent of tweets were excluded.

By education subcategory, 16.9 percent and 8.9 percent of all high-impact tweets were about disease information and treatment information, respectively. Two-thirds of disease question tweets asserted in some way that stress causes pimples, and 9 percent of retweets commented that makeup causes pimples, the study finds.

“Twitter is emerging as a popular forum where people exchange health information. Health providers can not only learn about the perceptions and misperceptions of diseases like acne, but they might also communicate reliable medical information,” the authors conclude.

JAMA Dermatol. Published May 15, 2013. 2013;149(5):621-622.