What kills us and what moves us: A comparative discourse analysis of heart disease and breast cancer

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Introduction: Heart disease kills nearly 300,000 US women annually, while approximately 40,000 US women die of breast cancer. Breast cancer online patient communities are well known for their high engagement and emotional support. This exploratory study compared social media discourse on breast cancer with discourse related to heart disease. Methods: Computer-assisted text analysis of two corpora composed of Twitter posts using #BreastCancer and #HeartDisease hashtags from December 2013 to December 2014. Lexical analysis (word and hashtag level) used AntConc software and lexicogrammatical analysis (style and stance) was conducted with DocuScope. Results: The #BreastCancer corpus consisted of 592,046 posts, 57% of which were not original to the user (retweets). #HeartDisease had 269,769 posts (13% retweets). Social media discourse about #BreastCancer and #HeartDisease drew attention to women, new developments, appeals for help and disease risks. The #BreastCancer corpus incorporates gendered language and associations with art and activism, while posts about #HeartDisease were discussed scientifically in concert with other diseases. The #BreastCancer corpus uniquely included community-specific initialism hashtags. Stance analysis of the #BreastCancer corpus revealed more socially oriented posts, marked by language of constructive reasoning, inclusive language and abstract thought, while #HeartDisease corpus posts were more scholarly, used contingent and oppositional reasoning, language from institutional and academic registers, citations and meta-discourse. Conclusion: The #HeartDisease social media community is less engaged, and content is less specific to both the disease and individual experience than #BreastCancer. Cultivating a women-focused heart disease online community might replicate some of the #BreastCancer community’s successes.




O’Hanlon, C. E. (2019). What kills us and what moves us: A comparative discourse analysis of heart disease and breast cancer. Digital Health, 5. https://doi.org/10.1177/2055207619844865

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