We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again (and again and again): social media has revolutionized the way we communicate. It’s also changed the way we seek out information and has increased our demand for a speedy delivery of said information. However, we’ve never quite fathomed that social channels such as Twitter could literally become the disease-trackers of the future.
An article titled “Using Twitter to Track Infection Diseases” via Grist introduces Graham Dodge, the founder of Sickweather (a site that tracks “what’s going around” to show people “when sickness bubbles up, where it travels and how it affects our lives.”). From the article:
Dodge thinks that social media is one of the best tools we have for tracking the spread of infectious diseases. Sickweather isn’t the first site to use the internet for epidemiological purposes—Google, for instance,tracks flu trends—but it’s the first to cull Facebook and Twitter for mentions of the flu, allergies, and 22 other symptoms and illnesses. You can follow the spread of diseases on a map, or just find out which illnesses are trending in your community.
In rare cases of a serious epidemic or outbreak, sites like Sickweather could actually predict what could happen before it does, thus ultimately serving as a veritable life-saver. The major difference between what social media could now do versus what traditional methods of disease tracking have once done is this, says Dodge: if they’re able to “factor in event schedules, travel and weather patterns, and environmental data, social media can help tell us when and where disease will strike, far faster than traditional methods can.”
At a time when social media is just really beginning to take off and present its possibilities, we’re starting to see where it could go in the future; and if it could help save lives, well, there’s not much arguing with that.