Government ‘Mining’ Social Media for Information on Health Behavior

HHS division will spend $30,000 on social media research


The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is “mining” Facebook and Twitter to improve its social media footprint and to assess how Tweets can be used as “change-agents” for health behaviors.

The NLM, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), will have software installed on government computers that will store data from social media as part of a $30,000 project announced last week.

“The National Library of Medicine is the world’s largest biomedical library and makes its stored information available online at no charge to consumers, health professionals, and biomedical scientists through a diverse suite of resources,” the agency said in a contract posted on Oct. 23. “Evaluating how its databases and other resources are utilized is an important component of continuing quality improvement and has long been an on-going program of NLM management through a potpourri of monitoring tools.”

“The world-wide explosion in the use of social media provides a unique opportunity for sampling sentiment and use patterns of NLM’s ‘customers’ and for comparing NLM to other sources of health-related information,” the agency said.

“By examining relevant tweets and other comments,” the contract said, “NLM will gain insights to extent of use, context for which information was sought, and effects of various health-related announcements and events on usage patterns.”

Specifically, NLM will look at the “value of tweets and other messages as teaching tools and change-agents for health-relevant behavior.”

“The overarching objective of these studies is to obtain a richer understanding of how consumers, clinicians, researchers actually look for the health-related information they seek, and what they do with what they find,” NLM said in a response to frequently asked questions about the project.

OhMyGov Inc., a media company that specializes in the promotion of government agencies, will be paid $30,660 to monitor social media for NLM for one year.

The company will install software on computers at NLM headquarters in Bethesda, Md. to “maintain a comprehensive ‘universe’ of social media data.” Government bureaucrats will be trained on the software so they can search the database for health-related content.

“Content from Twitter, Facebook, blogs, news sites, discussion boards, video and image sharing sites will be maintained by the Contractor and kept up-to-date in a timely manner and made available for query by Government,” the contract said.

When asked by a vendor if they are interested in storing the data for “historical analysis,” NLM said “Yes.”

The project will also track NLM’s impact on social media in comparison to its “competitors,” which they define as Google, Mayo Clinic, and WebMD.

“Demographic characteristics” of Facebook and Twitter posts will be noted “to the extent permitted by privacy regulations.” NLM said they are interested in the location, number of followers, and academic degrees held by users.

The contractor OhMyGov Inc. is partially funded by the National Science Foundation, and a member of President Obama’s “Startup America Initiative,” a public-private partnership designed to spur entrepreneurship.

“The OhMyGov Media Monitoring and Policy Analysis system is the first and only business intelligence software completely politically focused,” according to the company’s website. “It provides real-time data mining, analysis, and visual analytics to uncover patterns in message uptake and critical insights into how issues are being characterized by Congress as well as the media, public, and key stakeholders.”

Requests for comment from NLM were not returned.

Elizabeth Harrington   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Elizabeth Harrington is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Elizabeth graduated from Temple University in 2010. Prior to joining the Free Beacon, she worked as a staff writer for Her email address is Her Twitter handle is @LizWFB.

Get the news that matters most to you, delivered straight to your inbox daily.

Register today!