Twitter activity reflects cultural attitudes toward sport-related brain injury

Hundreds of thousands of Americans experience sports-related traumatic brain injury (TBI) every year. This kind of injury can negatively affect a person’s athletic career and health outcomes, and those who experience sports-related brain injuries are at high risk for sustaining multiple TBIs over the life course. American sports culture often prioritizes victory over athlete safety, which is evident in Americans’ sports-related Tweets and other social media posts.

A group of researchers was interested in the relationship between sports attitudes and social media posts. Almost one-quarter of internet-using adults in the United States use Twitter, a social media platform that allows users to make short text posts that typically express thoughts, opinions, and other content. The platform is free to the public, so the content of users Tweets reflects the perspectives of a general adult population. The researchers collected more than 7,000 Tweets that mentioned both TBI (or other head injury-related terms) and sports-related terms. They analyzed the content of these Tweets and found that:

  • Most users provided personal commentary about athletic concussions and shared their knowledge of TBI symptoms and treatment.
  • In general, adult Twitter users recognize the seriousness of sports-related TBI.
  • Despite this understanding, users do not tend to discourage sports activities that may lead to TBI, indicating that they prioritize sports culture above athlete safety.

Based on the content of American adults’ Tweets, the researchers conclude that the public needs better education about the causes, symptoms, and impact of TBI to fill the gaps that exist in their concussion-related knowledge. Coaches, athletes, and other sports personnel may especially benefit from additional education and awareness about the negative outcomes associated with TBI. Twitter and other social media platforms may be useful tools for providing this education to the general American public.

Workewych AM, Muzzi MC, Jing R, et al. Twitter and traumatic brain injury: A content and sentiment analysis of tweets pertaining to sport-related brain injury. SAGE Open Medicine. (July 2017).

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