Can Facebook and social networks prevent epidemics?

Online networks contribute to the control of infectious diseases

Who would have thought that the selfie from the last barbecue evening would help prevent or curb an epidemic. However, a recent study suggests that data about users of online networks such as Facebook has the potential to curb the spread of infectious diseases. According to the study, people with a lot of social contacts in online networks also have more physical contacts with people and should therefore be vaccinated as a matter of priority.

Many strategies to combat epidemics have been developed in recent years. The two main methods are surveillance and vaccination. The goal of monitoring is to predict an outbreak by observing a small subpopulation that poses an increased risk. The aim of vaccination is to keep the susceptibility of a population as low as possible. Past epidemics have already shown that schools, universities or hospitals have played a major role in large outbreaks, as many viruses and bacteria can be exchanged in such communities. The study, which was published in the journal "Journal of the Royal Society Interface", examines whether communication networks such as Facebook allow usable statements about the structure of contacts between individuals.

Facebook data identify groups with an increased risk of infection

The first study of this kind looks at the gap that exists between the digital and the physical world in order to make use of the data hidden therein. To this end, the physical and digital networks of 532 university students were examined. Over two years, data from Facebook friendships, Facebook activities, feeds, communication data sets and Bluetooth scans were collected and evaluated. In particular, it was examined whether an optimal vaccination strategy can be derived from the digital networks. Until now, this was only possible in the physical environment.

Amazing results

The evaluation showed that the use of online data from the communication networks to determine risk groups can drastically reduce the spread of diseases with a short transmission range, even if the vaccination coverage is only around 20 percent. The researchers report that the digital communication data of the types modeled in the study enable early detection and containment of infectious outbreaks in densely networked population groups such as schools, universities, workplaces and residential areas. The scientists advise increased cooperation between healthcare players and operators of social networks and telecommunications companies. (fp)

Author and source information

Video: COVID-19. Coronavirus: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, Diagnostics (October 2021).