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An Exploration of Social Circles and Prescription Drug Abuse Through Twitter

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      Prescription drug abuse has become a major public health problem. Relationships and social context are important contributing factors. Social media provides online channels for people to build relationships that may influence attitudes and behaviors.


      To determine whether people who show signs of prescription drug abuse connect online with others who reinforce this behavior, and to observe the conversation and engagement of these networks with regard to prescription drug abuse.


      Twitter statuses mentioning prescription drugs were collected from November 2011 to November 2012. From this set, 25 Twitter users were selected who discussed topics indicative of prescription drug abuse. Social circles of 100 people were discovered around each of these Twitter users; the tweets of the Twitter users in these networks were collected and analyzed according to prescription drug abuse discussion and interaction with other users about the topic.


      From November 2011 to November 2012, 3,389,771 mentions of prescription drug terms were observed. For the 25 social circles (n=100 for each circle), on average 53.96% (SD 24.3) of the Twitter users used prescription drug terms at least once in their posts, and 37.76% (SD 20.8) mentioned another Twitter user by name in a post with a prescription drug term. Strong correlation was found between the kinds of drugs mentioned by the index user and his or her network (mean r=0.73), and between the amount of interaction about prescription drugs and a level of abusiveness shown by the network ( r=0.85, P<.001).


      Twitter users who discuss prescription drug abuse online are surrounded by others who also discuss it—potentially reinforcing a negative behavior and social norm.

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      Most cited references 48

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      Community detection in graphs

      The modern science of networks has brought significant advances to our understanding of complex systems. One of the most relevant features of graphs representing real systems is community structure, or clustering, i. e. the organization of vertices in clusters, with many edges joining vertices of the same cluster and comparatively few edges joining vertices of different clusters. Such clusters, or communities, can be considered as fairly independent compartments of a graph, playing a similar role like, e. g., the tissues or the organs in the human body. Detecting communities is of great importance in sociology, biology and computer science, disciplines where systems are often represented as graphs. This problem is very hard and not yet satisfactorily solved, despite the huge effort of a large interdisciplinary community of scientists working on it over the past few years. We will attempt a thorough exposition of the topic, from the definition of the main elements of the problem, to the presentation of most methods developed, with a special focus on techniques designed by statistical physicists, from the discussion of crucial issues like the significance of clustering and how methods should be tested and compared against each other, to the description of applications to real networks.
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        Infodemiology and Infoveillance: Framework for an Emerging Set of Public Health Informatics Methods to Analyze Search, Communication and Publication Behavior on the Internet

        Infodemiology can be defined as the science of distribution and determinants of information in an electronic medium, specifically the Internet, or in a population, with the ultimate aim to inform public health and public policy. Infodemiology data can be collected and analyzed in near real time. Examples for infodemiology applications include: the analysis of queries from Internet search engines to predict disease outbreaks (eg. influenza); monitoring peoples' status updates on microblogs such as Twitter for syndromic surveillance; detecting and quantifying disparities in health information availability; identifying and monitoring of public health relevant publications on the Internet (eg. anti-vaccination sites, but also news articles or expert-curated outbreak reports); automated tools to measure information diffusion and knowledge translation, and tracking the effectiveness of health marketing campaigns. Moreover, analyzing how people search and navigate the Internet for health-related information, as well as how they communicate and share this information, can provide valuable insights into health-related behavior of populations. Seven years after the infodemiology concept was first introduced, this paper revisits the emerging fields of infodemiology and infoveillance and proposes an expanded framework, introducing some basic metrics such as information prevalence, concept occurrence ratios, and information incidence. The framework distinguishes supply-based applications (analyzing what is being published on the Internet, eg. on Web sites, newsgroups, blogs, microblogs and social media) from demand-based methods (search and navigation behavior), and further distinguishes passive from active infoveillance methods. Infodemiology metrics follow population health relevant events or predict them. Thus, these metrics and methods are potentially useful for public health practice and research, and should be further developed and standardized.
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          Modeling Users' Activity on Twitter Networks: Validation of Dunbar's Number

          Microblogging and mobile devices appear to augment human social capabilities, which raises the question whether they remove cognitive or biological constraints on human communication. In this paper we analyze a dataset of Twitter conversations collected across six months involving 1.7 million individuals and test the theoretical cognitive limit on the number of stable social relationships known as Dunbar's number. We find that the data are in agreement with Dunbar's result; users can entertain a maximum of 100–200 stable relationships. Thus, the ‘economy of attention’ is limited in the online world by cognitive and biological constraints as predicted by Dunbar's theory. We propose a simple model for users' behavior that includes finite priority queuing and time resources that reproduces the observed social behavior.

            Author and article information

            1Computational Health Science Research Group Department of Health Science Brigham Young University Provo, UTUnited States
            2Computational Health Science Research Group Department of Computer Science Brigham Young University Provo, UTUnited States
            Author notes
            Corresponding Author: Carl Lee Hanson Carl_Hanson@
            J Med Internet Res
            Journal of Medical Internet Research
            JMIR Publications Inc. (Toronto, Canada )
            September 2013
            06 September 2013
            : 15
            : 9
            24014109 3785991 v15i9e189 10.2196/jmir.2741
            (Reviewer), (Reviewer),
            ©Carl Lee Hanson, Ben Cannon, Scott Burton, Christophe Giraud-Carrier. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (, 06.09.2013.

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

            Original Paper


            twitter, social circles, social media, prescription drug abuse


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