A new study from University of Maryland School of Public Health explored whether Twitter posts that included Human Papillomavirus (HPV)-related images reflect the actual burden of disease experienced by different demographic groups and determined whether Twitter accounts sharing health communication messages about HPV utilized images that accurately reflect the burden of disease. The research is published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research
The findings reveal critical differences between the demographics reflected in HPV images and the actual burden of disease. HPV vaccination rates are suboptimal in general, with lower uptake among African Americans. Yet Hispanic and African American women have the highest incidence of cervical cancer, and minority women are more likely than whites to die from the disease. HPV vaccination can prevent many cases of cervical and other HPV associated cancers.
For the study, the research team identified 456 image tweets about HPV that contained faces posted by U.S. users between November 11, 2014 and August 8, 2016 and identified images containing at least one human face. They analyzed the images to determine gender, age, and race, and annotated the source of the tweets (individual, organization, or government).
The authors found that racial minorities are less likely to appear in HPV images, despite higher rates of HPV incidence and mortality. Specifically, they found that African American individuals are significantly underrepresented in Twitter images. Additionally, they report that male faces appear less often than female faces in HPV images, and the source of the tweet affected the level and type of discrepancy in minority representation. For example, individual sources shared more images with females than males, and organizations (health- or news-related) depict almost exclusively white faces.
The authors conclude “Our results show a distinct difference between the demographics reflected in Twitter images and the actual burden of disease by race and gender,” and that “Health communication efforts need to represent populations at risk better if we seek to reduce disparities in HPV infection.”
The study, “Discordance Between Human Papillomavirus Twitter Images and Disparities in Human Papillomavirus Risk and Disease in the United States: Mixed-Methods Analysis,” was led by Ms. Yuki Lama, a doctoral candidate in maternal and child health within the department of family science at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
Additional authors include Dr. Sandra Quinn, professor and chair of the University of Maryland School of Public Health department of family science, Ms. Amelia Jamison from the Maryland Center for Health Equity, Dr. Tao Chen and Dr. Mark Dredze from Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. David Broniatowski from George Washington University.