University of Kentucky is tracking e-cigarette tweets

The Department of Internal Medicine and the Department of Computer Science at the University of Kentucky are tracking e-cigarette tweets according to a release in the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health website. The university has a system that will “automatically identify e-cig “proponents” on Twitter and analyze the quantitative variation of their tweeting behavior” and compare those tweets with other users of the social media site. They call this approach to tracking tweets text mining.

What’s in a tweet

It seems to track a tweet, you don’t need a reason. In their background description, the Kentucky researchers call e-cigarettes an “emerging tobacco product” and e-cigarettes are “perceived and promoted as a less harmful alternative” on twitter. Because the Federal Drug Administration (F.D.A.) does not regulate e-cigarettes, there are currently no restrictions on advertising. According to the report, there are “regular” tweeters and then there are “ecig proponents.” In the article, it is mentioned that they tracked “curated key phrases to analyze e-cig proponent tweets” from over a million tweets, and narrowed down 1,000 twitter user profiles. The conclusion given in their report for doing this? The authors say their research “demonstrates the strong potential of informatics approaches, specifically machine learning, for automated e-cig surveillance on Twitter.” There were no mentions of tracking negative or anti-e-cigarette tweets.

Control and censorship

Tobacco advertising has been against the law since January 1971, after Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act banning advertising of cigarettes both on television and radio. E-cigarettes are not tobacco, but some (not all) have the same nicotine found in other nicotine products like the patch and gum. Some politicians are trying to pass laws to classify vaping products as tobacco. Social media has been a medium for people who have stopped using tobacco with vaping products. Passion is very high with these now non-smokers, and sharing their experiences is a natural progression of success after most had little to none with other “quit smoking” methods. Social media like Twitter is one way vapers choose to communicate to others curious about vaping products. Quebec, Canada recently passed a law forbidding the promotion of vaping products by stores, employees, or customers in stores or on the internet.

Careful what you tweet for, e-cigarette advocates. Big brother is watching, and they have the tools at the University of Kentucky to track your tweets.