Analyzing e-cigarette tweets costing feds $200K

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“Toward Fine-Grained E-Cigarette Surveillance on Social Media,” a project by the National Institute of Health that is analyzing hashtags and “follower-friend connections” of people talking about e-cigarettes on line, is costing the federal government an estimated $200,000, according to a Washington Free Beacon report.

Researchers, operating on the premise that popular smoking cessation products are harmful, are documenting what is being said on Twitter and Reddit for one year to prove their theory.

Free Beacon reported:

“Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have emerged as the main smoke-free alternative to regular cigarettes over the past few years,” according to the grant for the project. “While the ongoing healthy scientific debate about their long-term health effects and their suitability for smoking cessation are important, in this project, we propose computational approaches toward fine-grained surveillance of specific themes, factors influencing message popularity, and demographic variations.”

“The overarching goal is to create new affordances for researchers and health agencies to leverage online social media platforms for knowing and reaching their audience in effective ways,” the grant states.

A total of $199,665 was received by the University of Kentucky which started the project on Aug. 10.

The study will analyze #retweets and #replies of tweets about e-cigarettes received between July 2016 and June 2017.

“Twitter has become the favorite network for teenagers and young adults owing to the short message size and associated ease of use on smart phones,” according to the grant. “For an emerging product like e-cigarettes, the asymmetric follower-friend connections and hashtag functionality in Twitter offer a convenient way to propagate information and facilitate discussion.”

The goal of the research is that the Food and Drug Administration will be able to use the research findings to make the government’s anti-electronic cigarette messages go viral.

“We expect these results will help Health agencies, the FDA, and Researchers gain insights into observed viral nature of certain messages and designing effective strategies to maximize diffusion of their messages,” the grant states.

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