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Tweets seen as scientific data tool

BRISTOL, England, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- British researchers say they're looking at whether social media could be used to track an event or phenomenon, such as flu outbreaks and rainfall rates.

Although social networks such as Facebook and microblogging services like Twitter have only been around for a short time, they have proved capable of providing snapshots of real life by forming, electronically, public expression and interaction, researchers at the University of Bristol said.

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Researchers used posts on Twitter as their input data to investigate two case studies, a university release said Tuesday.

The first case study looked at levels of rainfall in a given location and time using the content of tweets that were geo-tagged to locations.

The second case study collected regional flu-like illness rates from tweets to find out if an epidemic was emerging.

"Twitter, in particular, encouraged their 200 million users worldwide to make their posts, commonly known as tweets, publicly available as well as tagged with the user's location," researcher Nello Cristianini said.

"Our research has demonstrated a method, by using the content of Twitter, to track an event, when it occurs and the scale of it.

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"This has led to a new wave of experimentation and research using an independent stream of information," he said.

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