Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security released a list of keywords it tracks on social media websites. The list, part of a DHS operations manual, includes a lot you’d expect: “al Qaeda,” “shots fired” and hundreds of other terms related to terrorism, domestic security and natural disasters.
What a lot of people don’t know is that like DHS, the Department of Health and Human Services also has an interest in monitoring social media and its own list of keywords it monitors on Twitter. It uses the list to look for signs of disease outbreaks.
Unlike DHS, this list didn’t take FOIA and a Congressional hearing to be released.
The health agency published the list online as part of a challenge for app developers to create a “Web-based tool that could make social media monitoring more accessible to local health departments.”
The HHS list is much more targeted than its homeland security counterpart. It’s comprised of 24 illnesses and the specific words people use to talk about them on social media (based on HHS research).
A subsection of the DHS list called “Health Concern + H1N1,” only contains about 50 words and focuses on flu-related terms.
HHS officials told me in an earlier interview that disease outbreaks are often talked about on Twitter weeks before traditional disease surveillance tools detect an outbreak so it’s hoping to add social media monitoring to its detection activities.
The largest two categories, gastrointestinal illness and sexually transmitted diseases, include terms like “sick to stomach,” “drip,” “personal problem” and “vomit.”
Woke up lacking color, funny stomach, and vomit-y feeling. What is wrong with me…
— Kad Duhamel (@kadinggo) September 24, 2012