BackgroundUse of social media is becoming ubiquitous, and disease-related communities are forming online, including communities of interest around diabetes.
ObjectiveOur objective was to examine diabetes-related participation on Twitter by describing the frequency and timing of diabetes-related tweets, the geography of tweets, and the types of participants over a 2-year sample of 10% of all tweets.
MethodsWe identified tweets with diabetes-related search terms and hashtags in a dataset of 29.6 billion tweets for the years 2013 and 2014 and extracted the text, time, location, retweet, and user information. We assessed the frequencies of tweets used across different search terms and hashtags by month and day of week and, for tweets that provided location information, by country. We also performed these analyses for a subset of tweets that used the hashtag #dsma, a social media advocacy community focused on diabetes. Random samples of user profiles in the 2 groups were also drawn and reviewed to understand the types of stakeholders participating online.
ResultsWe found 1,368,575 diabetes-related tweets based on diabetes-related terms and hashtags. There was a seasonality to tweets; a higher proportion occurred during the month of November, which is when World Diabetes Day occurs. The subset of tweets with the #dsma were most frequent on Thursdays (coordinated universal time), which is consistent with the timing of a weekly chat organized by this online community. Approximately 2% of tweets carried geolocation information and were most prominent in the United States (on the east and west coasts), followed by Indonesia and the United Kingdom. For the user profiles randomly selected among overall tweets, we could not identify a relationship to diabetes for the majority of users; for the profiles using the #dsma hashtag, we found that patients with type 1 diabetes and their caregivers represented the largest proportion of individuals.
ConclusionsTwitter is increasingly becoming a space for online conversations about diabetes. Further qualitative and quantitative content analysis is needed to understand the nature and purpose of these conversations.