Monday, November 24, 2014

Diane Fine Maron's "Tweets identify food poisoning outbreaks"

This Scientific American podcast by Diane Fine Maron describes how the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) used Twitter data to shut down restaurants with health code violations. Essentially, the CDPH monitored Tweets in Chicago, searching for the words "food poisoning". When such a tweet was identified, an official at CDPH messaged the Twitterer in question with a link to an official complain form website.

The results of this program?

"During a 10-month stretch last year, staff members at the health agency responded to 270 tweets about “food poisoning.” Based on those tweets, 193 complaints were filed and 133 restaurants in the city were inspected. Twenty-one were closed down and another 33 were forced to fix health violations. That’s according to a study in the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. [Jenine K. Harris et al, Health Department Use of Social Media to Identify Foodborne Illness — Chicago, Illinois, 2013–2014]"

I think this is a good example for using big data/new media data/archival data in a cheap and novel manner for the public good. I think it would also be interesting to ask your students to see how such a method could be employed within their community or campus. What are the big problems at your campus? How could you a) monitor Twitter/Facebook/YikYak/IG accounts and b) come up with a fast solution (like the online complaint forms) in order to follow up less formal data collection with more formal data collection?

(PS: HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Don't forget to properly reheat your leftovers!)

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