Online forums can be used by public health officials to quickly identify topics of public interest during the COVID-19 pandemic and to quell misinformation.
Machine learning can be used to track surges in interest in health topics on popular online comment boards, like Reddit, according to a new study conducted during the COVID-19 outbreak by researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine. Such insight could help public health officials better understand and address public concerns and priorities, and stem the spread of misinformation. This study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
“Public health priorities do not always align with community priorities, and the success of public health efforts often depends on having a plan to address community concerns,” says Daniel Stokes, a research fellow with the Center for Emergency Care Policy and the Center for Digital Health at Penn Medicine. “Having a source like Reddit that is directly tied to people’s thoughts could prove invaluable in crafting plans that meet people where they are.”
The researchers chose to evaluate discussions on Reddit because it is one of the most popular sites on the internet, as well as being relatively unfiltered and up-to-date.