UCLA Study Links Tweets About 'Sex' and 'Getting High' to Areas With Higher Rates of HIV and Drug Use

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Royce Hall at UCLA. (Photo by Zack Simone via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)

A study from UCLA has correlated tweets about sexual behavior deemed risky and using drugs with areas that have more HIV cases and illegal drug use, respectively.

UCLA researchers combed through more than 550 million tweets from 2012 for terms such as “sex” and “get high,” finding 8,538 tweets saying someone was engaging in risky sexual behavior and 1,342 tweets saying someone was using illegal drugs, City News Service reported. When compared with HIV and drug use rates around the country from 2009, the study found a “significant relationship” between the data sets.

The highest per-capita discussion of behavior deemed risky for the transmission of HIV was found in Washington, D.C., Delaware, Louisiana and South Carolina. The study largely looked at data from May 26 through Dec. 9, 2012.

The report was published last week in the peer-reviewed Preventive Medicine journal and suggests HIV-transmission probability can be predicted through the study of Twitter.

“Ultimately, these methods suggest that we can use ‘big data’ from social data for remote monitoring and surveillance of HIV risk behaviors and potential outbreaks,” said study author Sean Young, an assistant professor of family medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and co-director for the Center for Digital Behavior. Young said it was the first study to correlate tweets with health-related behavior and to monitor HIV risk and drug use.