Social Media in Medical Research

Social media platforms have invaded every aspect of our life in the previous decade. The use of applications like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat is an essential part of the daily routine for most of us. And medical research is ready to get involved.
Usually, Facebook is used as a tool for the analysis of health-related popular content. Specialized groups may be used to evaluate participants’ knowledge and awareness of some diseases. Analysis of the behavioral trends of some populations may be an exciting subject. Examples of published researches that used Facebook content are listed below.

1: Gupta AK, Ivanova IA. Hair loss treatment information on Facebook: content analysis and comparison with other online sources. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2020 Nov 10. doi: 10.1111/jocd.13830. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33174285.
2: Dhaliwal D, Mannion C. Antivaccine Messages on Facebook: Preliminary Audit. JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2020 Oct 20;6(4):e18878. doi: 10.2196/18878. PMID: 33079072.
3: Ophir Y, Tikochinski R, Asterhan CSC, Sisso I, Reichart R. Deep neural networks detect suicide risk from textual facebook posts. Sci Rep. 2020 Oct 7;10(1):16685. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-73917-0. PMID: 33028921; PMCID: PMC7542168.
4: Rozgonjuk D, Sindermann C, Elhai JD, Montag C. Comparing Smartphone, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat: Which Platform Elicits the Greatest Use Disorder Symptoms? Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2020 Sep 9. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2020.0156. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32907403.
5: Barnes LAJ, Barclay L, McCaffery K, Rolfe MI, Aslani P. Using Facebook to recruit to a national online survey investigating complementary medicine product use in pregnancy and lactation: a case study of method. Res Social Adm Pharm. 2020 Aug 10:S1551-7411(20)30303-X. doi: 10.1016/j.sapharm.2020.07.011. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32855079.
6: Umbaugh HM, Crerand CE, Stock NM, Luquetti DV, Heike CL, Drake AF, Billaud Feragen KJ, Johns AL. Microtia and craniofacial microsomia: Content analysis of facebook groups. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 2020 Nov;138:110301. doi: 10.1016/j.ijporl.2020.110301. Epub 2020 Aug 9. PMID: 32838996.
7: Athanasiadis DI, Roper A, Hilgendorf W, Voss A, Zike T, Embry M, Banerjee A, Selzer D, Stefanidis D. Facebook groups provide effective social support to patients after bariatric surgery. Surg Endosc. 2020 Aug 11. doi: 10.1007/s00464-020-07884-y. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32780242.
Considering the technical specification of WhatsApp, it’s common to use it as in interventional research tool. As seen below, WhatsApp can be an effective educational tool in many situations.
1: Nardo B, Lugaresi M, Doni M, Vulcano I, Piccione D, Paglione D, Stabile G. WhatsApp video call communication between oncological patients and their families during Covid-19 outbreak. Minerva Chir. 2020 Sep 25. doi: 10.23736/S0026-4733.20.08454-0. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32975387.
2: Pereira AAC, Destro JR, Picinin Bernuci M, Garcia LF, Rodrigues Lucena TF. Effects of a WhatsApp-Delivered Education Intervention to Enhance Breast Cancer Knowledge in Women: Mixed-Methods Study. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2020 Jul 21;8(7):e17430. doi: 10.2196/17430. PMID: 32706726; PMCID: PMC7404019.
3: Bouter C, Venter B, Etheredge H. Guidelines for the use of WhatsApp groups in clinical settings in South Africa. S Afr Med J. 2020 Apr 29;110(5):364-368. doi: 10.7196/SAMJ.2020.v110i5.14558. PMID: 32657718.
4: Meeuwis IHM, van Rooijen EM, Verhagen WIM. The use of WhatsApp Messenger: an important tool in modern neurological examination. Acta Neurol Belg. 2020 Oct;120(5):1045-1049. doi: 10.1007/s13760-020-01435-x. Epub 2020 Jul 9. PMID: 32647971.
5: Hamza M, Khan HS, Hanif M. WhatsApp groups: an effective way of intradepartmental and interdepartmental communication regarding patient consultations. J R Coll Physicians Edinb. 2020 Mar;50(1):92-95. doi: 10.4997/JRCPE.2020.125. PMID: 32539050.
Use of YouTube as medical research tool is similar to Facebook. Many researches focus on the content and its validity as information source for targeted groups. See examples.
1: Zhang B, Zaman A, Silenzio V, Kautz H, Hoque E. The Relationships of Deteriorating Depression and Anxiety with Longitudinal Behavioral Changes in Google and YouTube Usages among College Students in the United States during COVID-19: Observational Study. JMIR Ment Health. 2020 Nov 9. doi: 10.2196/24012. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33180743.
2: Langford B, Hooten WM, D’Souza S, Moeschler S, D’Souza RS. YouTube as a Source of Medical Information About Spinal Cord Stimulation. Neuromodulation. 2020 Nov 2. doi: 10.1111/ner.13303. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33137842.
3: Arikanoglu A, Demir M, Aluclu MU. Analysis of YouTube as a source of information for restless leg syndrome. Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2020 Oct;78(10):611-616. doi: 10.1590/0004-282X20200077. PMID: 33111848.
4: Ahmad T, Sattar K, Akram A. Medical professionalism videos on YouTube: Content exploration and appraisal of user engagement. Saudi J Biol Sci. 2020 Sep;27(9):2287-2292. doi: 10.1016/j.sjbs.2020.06.007. Epub 2020 Jun 12. PMID: 32884409; PMCID: PMC7451591.
It may be unexpected to see published researches that consider Instagram content as a research subject. However, many elegant researchers could find this possible. Their work found its way to get published.
1: Gao Y, Xie Z, Sun L, Xu C, Li D. Electronic Cigarette-Related Contents on Instagram: Observational Study and Exploratory Analysis. JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2020 Nov 5;6(4):e21963. doi: 10.2196/21963. PMID: 33151157.
2: Curtis RG, Ryan JC, Edney SM, Maher CA. Can Instagram be used to deliver an evidence-based exercise program for young women? A process evaluation. BMC Public Health. 2020 Oct 6;20(1):1506. doi: 10.1186/s12889-020-09563-y. PMID: 33023559; PMCID: PMC7539409.
3: Prabhu V, Munawar K. Radiology on Instagram: Analysis of Public Accounts and Identified Areas for Content Creation. Acad Radiol. 2020 Sep 23:S1076-6332(20)30505-5. doi: 10.1016/j.acra.2020.08.024. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32980242.
4: Lee N, Buchanan K, Yu M. Each post matters: a content analysis of #mentalhealth images on Instagram. J Vis Commun Med. 2020 Jul;43(3):128-138. doi: 10.1080/17453054.2020.1781535. Epub 2020 Jul 9. PMID: 32643457.
5: Wells TM, Rundle CW, Szeto MD, Presley C, Dellavalle RP. An Analysis of Skin of Color Dermatology Related Content on Instagram. J Drugs Dermatol. 2020 Jul 1;19(7):746-754. doi: 10.36849/JDD.2020.5142. PMID: 32722911.

As you can deduce, you don’t always need a budget or a lab to conduct quality research.

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