SOMA Lab is comprised of an interdisciplinary team of researchers studying topics at the intersection of public health, communication, and technology at the Keck School of Medicine. Social media content can reflect the attitudes and behaviors of the public without the prime of a researcher or instrument bias, while being captured in near real time and at low costs. As such, SOMA Lab’s goal is to harness publicly accessible data from social media platforms, like Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, YouTube, among others, to rapidly capture and describe health-related attitudes and behaviors, and stay abreast of the marketing and promotional practices of companies whose products or services may directly affect public health and safety.
Current studies range from 1) examining user experiences with popular new tobacco products (JUUL, KandyPens) to understand their appeal, and the social and environmental characteristics surrounding their use, to 2) identifying, quantifying, and describing promotional practices of companies across various industries and determining how such practices affect offline health-related behaviors, to 3) identifying the extent of unsubstantiated health claims (or misinformation) pertaining to substances like nicotine, cannabis, and products like electronic cigarettes and describing the sources responsible for perpetuating such claims on social media.
Our study "Characterising KandyPens-related posts to Instagram: implications for nicotine and cannabis use" analysed posts to Instagram related to KandyPens, an open-system pod mod e-cigarette company, marketing its products as aromatherapy devices. The objective was to determine themes, corresponding user profiles and references to types of e-liquid solutions used with KandyPens.
Our study, "Follow-Up Investigation on the Promotional Practices of Electric Scooter Companies: Content Analysis of Posts on Instagram and Twitter," examines the extent to which popular e-scooter companies emphasize safety on social media.
Our article "Could Social Bots Pose a Threat to Public Health?" explains social bots, current research, their potential threats to public health and what can we do.