Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Online Vaccination Discussion and Communities in Twitter

Continuing on our work of exploring health related issues in social media, Xiaoyi Yuan and myself had a paper accepted at the 9th International Conference on Social Media and Society. In our paper entitled: "Examining Online Vaccination Discussion and Communities in Twitter"  we examined the communication patterns of anti-vaccine and pro-vaccine users on Twitter by studying the retweet network from 660,892 tweets related to the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine published by 269,623 users using supervised learning to identify clusters of users based on their opinions (i.e. a pro-vaccine, anti-vaccine, or neutral user). 

The overall methodology can be seen in Figure 1 and more details can be found in the paper. Our data was collected using the GeoSocial Gauge System, however, since tweets are short and their content diverse, the data corpus needed to be cleaned so that the tweets could then be converted to features (e.g., unigrams or bigrams). After which we were able to use such features for training a variety of classifiers (i.e., logistic regression, support vector machine (linear and non-linear kernel), k-nearest neighbors, nearest centroid, and Na├»ve Bayes) to identify opinion groups. After this, we moved from on from identifying each user’s opinion to construct a retweet network in order to understand how in-group and cross-group communicate in the committees detected via retweet network. By carrying out this analysis we discovered that pro- and anti-vaccine users retweet predominantly from their own opinion group, while users with neutral opinions are distributed across communities. Below you can read our abstract, see some results from our study and the full reference (and link) to the paper.


Figure1: Steps used in our study to unveil the communication patterns of pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine users on Twitter
 Abstract:
Many states in the US allow a “belief exemption” for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccines. People’s opinion on whether or not to take the vaccine could have direct consequences in public health— once the vaccine refusal of a group within a population is higher than what herd immunity can tolerate, a disease can transmit fast causing large scale of disease outbreaks. Social media has been one of the dominant communication channels for people to express their opinions of vaccination. Despite governmental organizations’ effects of disseminating information of vaccination benefits, anti-vaccine sentiment is still gaining its momentum, especially on social media. This research investigates the communicative patterns of anti-vaccine and pro-vaccine users on Twitter by studying the retweet network from 660,892 tweets related to MMR vaccine published by 269,623 users after the 2015 California Disneyland measles outbreak. Using supervised learning, we classified the users into anti-vaccination, neutral to vaccination, and pro-vaccination groups. Using a combination of opinion groups and retweet network structural community detection, we discovered that pro- and anti-vaccine users retweet predominantly from their own opinion group, while users with neutral opinions are distributed across communities. For most cross-group communication, it was found that pro-vaccination users were retweeting anti-vaccination users than vice-versa. The paper concludes that anti-vaccine Twitter users are highly clustered and enclosed communities, and this makes it difficult for health organizations to penetrate and counter opinionated information. We believe that this finding may be useful in developing strategies for health communication of vaccination and overcome some the limits of current strategies.

Key Words: Anti-vaccine movement, Twitter, social media, opinion classification
Figure 2: Network visualizations of the four largest communities. A: is colored by the belonging to a specific structural community and; B: is colored by belonging to opinion groups

Figure 3: Distributions of opinion groups in the four largest structural community

Full Reference:
Yuan, X. and Crooks, A.T. (2018), Examining Online Vaccination Discussion and Communities in Twitter, Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Social Media and Society, Copenhagen, Denmark, pp 197-206. (pdf)

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

MASON Update

At the upcoming Multi-Agent-Based Simulation (MABS) workshop, we have a paper entitled "The MASON Simulation Toolkit: Past, Present, and Future" in which we discuss MASON's development history, its design and (probably more interesting) where MASON is going. This includes:
  1. Making it more robust (i.e. easier to run parameter tests), 
  2. Making it distributed in order to  run large scale models including geographical explicit ones along for optimization and validation purposes.
  3. Making it more coder-friendly by adding code templates that allow users to generate code skeletons for common MASON patterns and a way to easily record outputs and statistics.
  4. Making it more community-friendly by hopefully developing a special online repository to enable researchers to distribute models as jar files along with education aids and examples. Relating to this last point we have added a number of example models (code and data) from our own research to GitHub, see: https://github.com/eclab/mason/tree/master/contrib/geomason/sim/app/geo and the data to run the models is either there or here https://cs.gmu.edu/~eclab/projects/mason/extensions/geomason/geodemodata.zip (note this is 1.5 GB).
Below you can read the abstract from the paper along with a link to the paper itself.

Example Applications of MASON

Abstract
MASON is a widely-used open-source agent-based simulation toolkit that has been in constant development since 2002. MASON’s architecture was cutting-edge for its time, but advances in computer technology now offer new opportunities for the ABM community to scale models and apply new modeling techniques. We are extending MASON to provide these opportunities in response to community feedback. In this paper we discuss MASON, its history and design, and how we plan to improve and extend it over the next several years. Based on user feedback will add distributed simulation, distributed GIS, optimization and sensitivity analysis tools, external language and development environment support, statistics facilities, collaborative archives, and educational tools.

Keywords: Agent-Based Simulation, Open Source, Library

Full Reference:
Luke, S., Simon, R., Crooks, A.T., Wang, H., Wei, E., Freelan, D., Spagnuolo, C., Scarano, V., Cordasco, G. and Cioffi-Revilla, C. (2018), The MASON Simulation Toolkit: Past, Present, and Future, 19th International Workshop on Multi-Agent-Based Simulation (MABS2018), Stockholm, Sweden. (pdf)

Available on Github


This research is supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant 1727303).