Academics Devise Surveillance System To Identify E-Cigarette Supporters

(Photo credit should read Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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E-cigarette advocates could find themselves being identified and watched via Twitter if a model from two academics at the University of Kentucky is implemented.

“A number of manufacturers, advocates and e-cig users are actively promoting e-cigs on Twitter,” the study’s declare ominously. To monitor this advocacy activity, the authors claim to have developed a highly accurate predictive model that can identify who they call e-cig “proponents” on Twitter.

“We used a set of manually curated key phrases to analyze e-cig proponent tweets from a corpus of over one million e-cig tweets along well known e-cig themes and compared the results with those generated by regular tweeters,” said the study’s abstract, published March 11.

The study’s abstract doesn’t specify why it would be necessary for the public health lobby or federal officials to monitor the tweets of people who are enthusiastic about e-cigarettes.

The authors claim their model identifies e-cigarette proponents with 96 percent accuracy. According to the study, these e-cig advocates tweet two to five times more than regular and are two orders of magnitude more likely to highlight different e-cigarette flavors, the fact they are far less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, and their ability to help smokers quit.

The conclusion, however, alludes to who might benefit from surveilling e-cigarette advocates – the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Given FDA is currently in the process of proposing meaningful regulation, we believe our work demonstrates the strong potential of informatics approaches, specifically machine learning, for automated e-cig surveillance on Twitter.” (RELATED: FDA Could Trigger Massive E-Cig Black Market, Turn Vapers Back To Smoking)

Needless to say, there is no study yet in existence that explores how to monitor the tweets of public health activists who are vehemently anti-vaping and discourage smokers from switching to a safer alternative.

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