Facebook data could predict spread of disease outbreaks says new research on 'social-connectedness'

Daily Mail - Science & tech 

Researchers say evaluating the'social-connectedness' of regions using Facebook data could give epidemiologists another tool in judging the spread of infectious disease outside of geographic proximity and population density. The study, which appears in the preprint journal ArXiv and is authored by researchers from New York University, found links between two hotspots of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic - Westchester County, New York and Lodi province in Italy - to areas with correlating connections on the social media platform, Facebook. Using an equation developed by the same researchers in 2017 called the'Social Connectedness Index' the study was able to make correlations between the spread of COVID-19 from Westchester County and Lodi to geographically disparate locations like ski resorts on Florida and vacation spots in Rimini, Italy near the Adriatic sea. Those correlations remained even after controlling for wealth, population density, and geographic proximity according to researchers. Levels of social connectedness didn't always correlate to the disproportionate spread of the virus, however.