Twitter "big data" can help address the health issues faced by the transgender community like HIV, substance abuse and depression, says a study from University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA).
The team found that people from these communities use social media at high rates to discuss health and social topics that are important to them.
Social "big data" technologies like Twitter offer an untapped rich source of information that can be used for the benefit of these communities. There has been little research studying transgender communities because they can be very closed communities who fear stigmatisation.
"Our Institute has studied how to use 'social big data' to address public health needs and we wanted to apply this work to address the needs of transgender communities and researchers," said study co-author Sean D. Young, executive director of the Institute for Prediction Technology at UCLA.
They collected 1,135 tweets over one day containing relevant hashtags such as "#trans" or "#girlslikeus". In all, they collected tweets from 13 such hashtags.
They found that 54.71 percent of the tweets were about positive social issues while 26.34 percent were about negative social issues, among them being discrimination, violence, police mistreatment and ignorance.
Nearly 11.10 percent were about positive personal sentiments such as pride, self-affirmation and interest in one's appearance. Nearly 2.29 percent were negative personal issues such as suicide, body image dysphoria, depression, eating disorders and sexual risk behaviour.
"These tweets provide real-time information that researchers can use to understand transgender individuals' health and well-being," noted co-author Evan Krueger.
Transgender and gender nonconforming people are at high risk for diseases such as AIDS and are vulnerable to depression and other mental health issues, but may be reluctant to disclose their identities to researchers due to stigma.
As a result, very little is known about their health and social needs. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal JMIR Mental Health.