The Intelligent Systems Laboratory at the University of Bristol used some 50 million geo-located tweets to create a database of health-related communications. They then compared the database to regional National Health Service statistics over the same period to identify keywords seen during outbreaks of flu, and used those terms to analyze new Twitter activity to predict where and when an outbreak may occur.
In short, if everybody in Michigan is tweeting some form of the word "poo-fountain," scientists know to send extra medical-grade underpants to Lansing.
"But, sir, what about Detroit?"
"Don't you get it? There is no more Detroit."
Paying really close attention to Twitter may not sound as esteemed and dignified as we like our science, but it's much quicker than the traditional method, which is driving through at-risk neighborhoods and holding your hand out the window to see if anybody sneezes on it. A U.S.-based study showed that an outbreak of H1N1 (swine flu) during the 2009 epidemic could have been identified several weeks earlier than traditional methods if we'd just listened to Twitter users.
No word yet on whether or not science considers it "worth it."
"So you can do everything right at your desk-"
Slightly less shockingly: A similar study tracked tweets about vaccinations available for H1N1, and found that regions that showed a negative attitude toward the jab were most likely to be the same regions that had the highest instance of the virus. This is known as a "no shit" scenario, and is commonly attributed to the works and studies of Dr. Sherlock.
Dennis Fulton has given in to peer pressure and now has a meth addiction and a Twitter account where he posts his theories on why his teeth keep falling out.
For more odd indicators, check out 6 Bizarre Factors That Predict Every Presidential Election and 7 Bizarre Trends That Predict an Economic Collapse.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Oddly Insulting Recent Ad Campaigns .
And stop by LinkSTORM and how Facebook also predicts when you will kick the bucket.
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Related Reading: Interested in how social media is changing the world of prison? This article is filled with pictures of convicts bragging on Facebook. Still not convinced that social media is crippling society? Click here and see the proof that REAL friends and online friends are inversely related. Ready for some fiction after all that 'reality' bullcrap? Gladstone's Notes from the Internet Apocalypse will show you the terror of a world without social media.