Online Program

Perceptions regarding homelessness: Analyzing US tweets

Monday, November 4, 2013

Nathan Kim, School of Public Health, U.C. Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Colette Auerswald, MD, MS, U.C. Berkeley School of Public Health, UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program, Berkeley, CA
Jessica Lin, MPH, Division of Adolescent Medicine, UCSF, San Francisco, CA
Purpose: Twitter provides a snapshot of how its relatively young demographic interacts with and perceives the homeless. An understanding of these trends may help inform policy regarding homelessness.

Methods: We utilized Amazon web services and a custom computer script to sample and store U.S. tweets containing the word “homeless” over a three month period. Our team employed content analysis to codify and analyze the content.

Results: We identified several narrative scripts concerning the homeless in the U.S.. Positive tweets included charity tweets about performing good deeds or volunteering for the homeless and social justice tweets exhorting understanding of the homeless. The majority of tweets were more negative. These included fashion tweets describing one's shabby clothing or appearance. A second group of negative tweets were sexual tweets documenting sexual acts, threats or advances by or with the homeless. A third group of negative tweets described fear or disgust that authors were expressing regarding the homeless. Finally, a significant number of neutral pop culture tweets mentioned the word "homeless" in the context of lyrics or other pop content.

Conclusion: An analysis of tweet content suggests that views on the homeless are diverse, but can generally include the homeless person as an individual with living conditions beyond his/her control and deserving of help, as a referent for negative appearance, or as a threatening/sexualized “other.” Our research suggests that addressing the rhetoric of stigma/blame could be a target of future interventions to humanize the homeless.

Learning Areas:

Diversity and culture
Other professions or practice related to public health
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs

Learning Objectives:
Describe the main attitudes that U.S. Twitter users have towards the homeless. Explore implications of understanding discrimination for future policy and community efforts.

Keyword(s): Homelessness, Communication Technology

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I've helped developed research methodologies concerning homeless youth and HIV with a focus on socio-cultural factors affecting the homeless. My several years of experience working with the homeless community include policy-making, advocacy,community organization, and extensive volunteering.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.