Cancer talk on twitter: community structure and information sources in breast and prostate cancer social networks

J Health Commun. 2014;19(2):210-25. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2013.811321. Epub 2013 Oct 10.

Abstract

This study suggests taking a social networks theoretical approach to predict and explain patterns of information exchange among Twitter prostate and breast cancer communities. The authors collected profiles and following relationship data about users who posted messages about either cancer over 1 composite week. Using social network analysis, the authors identified the main clusters of interconnected users and their most followed hubs (i.e., information sources sought). Findings suggest that users who populated the persistent-across-time core cancer communities created dense clusters, an indication of taking advantage of the technology to form relationships with one another in ways that traditional one-to-many communication technologies cannot support. The major information sources sought were very specific to the community health interest and were grassroots oriented (e.g., a blog about prostate cancer treatments). Accounts associated with health organizations and news media, despite their focus on health, did not play a role in these core health communities. Methodological and practical implications for researchers and health campaigners are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / methods*
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Prostatic Neoplasms*
  • Social Support*