Themes, communities and influencers of online probiotics chatter: A retrospective analysis from 2009-2017

Santosh Vijaykumar*, Aravind Sesagiri Raamkumar, Kristofor McCarty, Cuthbert Mutumbwa, Jawwad Mustafa, Cyndy Au

*Corresponding author for this work

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We build on recent examinations questioning the quality of online information about probiotic products by studying the themes of content, detecting virtual communities and identifying key influencers in social media using data science techniques. We conducted topic modelling (n = 36,715 tweets) and longitudinal social network analysis (n = 17,834 tweets) of probiotic chatter on Twitter from 2009–17. We used Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) to build the topic models and network analysis tool Gephi for building yearly graphs. We identified the top 10 topics of probiotics-related communication on Twitter and a constant rise in communication activity. However the number of communities grew consistently to peak in 2014 before dipping and levelling off by 2017. While several probiotics industry actors appeared and disappeared during this period, the influence of one specific actor rose from a hub initially to an authority in the latter years. With multi-brand advertising and probiotics promotions mostly occupying the Twitter chatter, scientists, journalists, or policymakers exerted minimal influence in these communities. Consistent with previous research, we find that probiotics-related content on social media veers towards promotions and benefits. Probiotic industry actors maintain consistent presence on Twitter while transitioning from hubs to authorities over time; scientific entities assume an authoritative role without much engagement. The involvement of scientific, journalistic or regulatory stakeholders will help create a balanced informational environment surrounding probiotic products.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0258098
Number of pages18
JournalPLoS One
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2021


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