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National Institutes Of Health 'Mining' Social Media Sites For Drug Data

New grant money will assist the government agency in so-called observational research into how social influences play a role in shaping health behaviors.

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By McCarton Ackerman

01/16/14

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College students may want to rethink posting that photo of themselves drinking because the National Institutes of Health (NIH) could soon be reviewing it. The NIH has committed $5 million to “mine” Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in order to assess the population’s alcohol and drug use, as well as provide “social media-based interventions aimed at altering behaviors.” The funding comes in the form of two matching grants.

Because nearly 80 percent of adults use some form of social media, the NIH believes it’s an invaluable resource to understand the risk factors, behaviors, and attitudes associated with both drug abuse and addiction. “Social influences play a key role in shaping health behaviors,” said the NIH in a statement. Consequently, social media are increasingly affecting people’s everyday behaviors, including their attitudes to issues relevant to health. In this context, behavioral scientists have the unprecedented opportunity to observe and systemically analyze the interactions occurring in social media in studies that may contribute to the goal of improving public health.”

The two primary investigative areas for the NIH project will be “observational research” and online interventions. The collected data will also be used for other studies involving underage drinking and the recent legal marijuana laws passed in Colorado and Washington.

The NIH begins accepting grant applications next month for $200,000 to $400,000 worth of funding annually on projects that last between two to three years, but only 12-14 grant applications will be approved. The federal government is also continuing to provide smaller grants for this specialty, recently giving $30,000 via the National Library of Medicine to learn how tweets can be used as “change-agents” for health behavior.

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