RTI International to use social media data for e-cigarette surveillance and policy research

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – RTI International will pursue how the use of social media data can help researchers understand the proliferation of electronic cigarettes as part of research project grant from the National Institutes of Health Collaborative Research on Addiction initiative and the National Cancer Institute.

The project aims to provide information that will help guide e-cigarette research, policy and regulations.

"Social media data is promising for gaining rapid insights into emerging products like electronic cigarettes," said Annice Kim, Ph.D., senior social scientist in RTI's Public Health Policy Research Program and principal investigator of the grant. "However analyzing the massive volumes of data can be challenging and we don't always know who these data represent.  In this project we hope to address these gaps by leveraging both social media data and survey data to understand how the e-cigarette marketplace and consumer use patterns are changing, what role social media data play in influencing consumer beliefs and behaviors, and to rapidly disseminate this information to help inform ongoing research and regulatory efforts." 

The Collaborative Research on Addiction initiative is an NIH consortium involving the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Cancer Institute.

The three-year project aims to track e-cigarette devices and marketers' advertising practices, consumer perceptions and use, and how information about emerging research and regulatory policies are disseminated. This will be done by using text mining and sentiment analysis to characterize information about e-cigarettes shared on Twitter, in collaboration with co-investigator Bing Liu, Ph.D., professor of computer science at University of Illinois Chicago. 

The second goal focuses on consumers' exposure to e-cigarette information and whether content shared on Twitter reflects actual perceptions and use. To do this, researchers will link individual-level Twitter data to surveys of 1,800 adult current smokers and 1,800 dual e-cigarette and cigarette users.

Linking the Twitter data to survey data will help validate social media posts and assess whether information exposure is associated with recall and information sharing, and how these patterns and relationships vary by respondent characteristics. 

"Social media represents a vast and rich resource to better understand the attitudes and behaviors we measure in surveys and how to measure them," said co-investigator Joe Murphy, director of RTI's Survey Research Division's Program on Digital Technology and Society.  "Combining the two sources and understanding the contributions and limitation of each will give us a powerful combination for research."

Previous research by RTI indicated that youth exposure to e-cigarette ads increased by 256 percent from 2011 to 2013 and young adult exposure to e-cigarette ads jumped 321 percent in the same period, suggesting the need for e-cigarette policies and regulations. 

 

Highlights

  • RTI International will pursue how the use of social media data can help researchers understand the proliferation of e-cigarettes
  • The project aims to provide information that will help guide e-cigarette research, policy and regulations