Consider this message, most likely posted by a college student in or around Brandeis University near Boston: “I just remembered I have a 4loko in my minifridge. Guess who’s getting sloppy day drunk tomorrow!”
Good luck finding the Four Loko fanatic. The post is from Yik Yak, an anonymous, free social media platform popular on college campuses.
Even so, a recent study analyzing Yik Yak posts gathered from 120 campuses suggests that tracking these messages does have an upside: Public health experts say it may ultimately help them learn more about issues like alcohol and substance use.
Over the span of one month, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Colorado at Boulder found 2,047 health-related yaks — the term for posts on Yik Yak — dealing with themes like smoking, drinking and drug use.
“Because it’s anonymous, people disclose things about themselves that they might not publicly post, either on Twitter or even necessarily to their doctors,” said Michael Paul, an assistant professor and founder of the Information Science Department at UC Boulder, in an interview.
While big data collected from social media has been used to study public health, such as influenza surveillance through Google search queries and Twitter, the field is relatively new and Paul’s study is the first to look at public health using Yik Yak. Continue reading