Towards scaling Twitter for digital epidemiology of birth defects

NPJ Digital Medicine
Ari KleinGraciela Gonzalez-Hernandez


Social media has recently been used to identify and study a small cohort of Twitter users whose pregnancies with birth defect outcomes-the leading cause of infant mortality-could be observed via their publicly available tweets. In this study, we exploit social media on a larger scale by developing natural language processing (NLP) methods to automatically detect, among thousands of users, a cohort of mothers reporting that their child has a birth defect. We used 22,999 annotated tweets to train and evaluate supervised machine learning algorithms-feature-engineered and deep learning-based classifiers-that automatically distinguish tweets referring to the user's pregnancy outcome from tweets that merely mention birth defects. Because 90% of the tweets merely mention birth defects, we experimented with under-sampling and over-sampling approaches to address this class imbalance. An SVM classifier achieved the best performance for the two positive classes: an F1-score of 0.65 for the "defect" class and 0.51 for the "possible defect" class. We deployed the classifier on 20,457 unlabeled tweets that mention birth defects, which helped identify 542 additional users for potential inclusion in our cohort. Contributions of this study incl...Continue Reading


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Nov 18, 2018·Journal of Biomedical Informatics·Abeed Sarker, Graciela Gonzalez-Hernandez

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Jan 26, 2021·Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics·Adam LavertuStefano Rensi
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