Social Media as a Catalyst for Policy Action and Social Change for Health and Well-Being

Viewpoint

Published in: Journal of Medical Internet Research, Volume 20, Number 3 (March 2018). doi:10.2196/jmir.8508

Posted on RAND.org on May 22, 2018

by Douglas Yeung

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This viewpoint paper argues that policy interventions can benefit from the continued use of social media analytics, which can serve as an important complement to traditional social science data collection and analysis. Efforts to improve well-being should provide an opportunity to explore these areas more deeply, and encourage the efforts of those conducting national and local data collection on health to incorporate more of these emerging data sources.Social media remains a relatively untapped source of information to catalyze policy action and social change. However, the diversity of social media platforms and available analysis techniques provides multiple ways to offer insight for policy making and decision making. For instance, social media content can provide timely information about the impact of policy interventions. Social media location information can inform where to deploy resources or disseminate public messaging. Network analysis of social media connections can reveal underserved populations who may be disconnected from public services. Machine learning can help recognize important patterns for disease surveillance or to model population sentiment. To fully realize these potential policy uses, limitations to social media data will need to be overcome, including data reliability and validity, and potential privacy risks.Traditional data collection may not fully capture the upstream factors and systemic relationships that influence health and well-being. Policy actions and social change efforts, such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's effort to advance a culture of health, which are intended to drive change in a network of upstream health drivers, will need to incorporate a broad range of behavioral information, such as health attitudes or physical activity levels. Applying innovative techniques to emerging data has the potential to extract insight from unstructured data or fuse disparate sources of data, such as linking health attitudes that are expressed to health behaviors or broader health and well-being outcomes.

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