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A UK study has found that Twitter is acting as a lifeline for people with gut-related chronic illness.
The study done by the University of Warwick analyzed hundreds of thousands of tweets to identify a previously unobserved online network of people with Coeliac Disease.
The disease mainly affects the small intestine (part of the gut) and is caused by a reaction of the gut to gluten.
Sam Martin, a PhD student from the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies (CIM), studied the data and identified an information network discussing the availability of gluten-free food. She studied 1,800 messages per hour, from a 15km radius of two cities — London and New York,.
She not only discovered an information hub, but also found that gaps in knowledge, about where to find gluten free food in the city, how to manage symptoms, and how to avoid risk of cross-contamination — were being filled by the very people who are reliant on the missing material — those with Coeliac Disease, who used hashtags like #coeliac #glutenfree and more to make connections online.
As a Coeliac herself, with a background in web development and data visualization, Martin has also produced information-sharing smartphone apps based on her own searches for gluten free venues and resources, which allow users to identify suitable cafes and restaurants nearby in London and Paris.
Martin said. having previously lived in London, she know how hard it is to find places that provide gluten free food while on the move in the city but it was only when she started using data mining techniques on Twitter that she began to fully understand how many other people there are out there like her.
She described Twitter as a big organic hub of social digital interaction, that when analyzed using data mining methods — revealed a human ecosystem of communication underneath — in this case uncovering a network of Coeliacs.
Martin further added that digital tools such as social media and apps based on GPS are set to revolutionize the self-management of diet-related illness in the city and may well be used to help manage other conditions such as diabetes or allergies to lactose, nuts, eggs or sulphites.