Analyzing empowerment processes among cancer patients in an online community: A text mining approach

Suzan Verberne*, Anika Batenburg, Remco Sanders, Mies van Eenbergen, Enny Das, Mattijs S Lambooij

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background: Peer-to-peer online support groups and the discussion forums in these groups can help patients by providing opportunities for increasing their empowerment. Most previous research on online empowerment and online social support uses qualitative methods or questionnaires to gain insight into the dynamics of online empowerment processes. Objective: The overall goal of this study was to analyze the presence of the empowerment processes in the online peer-to-peer communication of people affected by cancer, using text mining techniques. Use of these relatively new methods enables us to study social processes such as empowerment on a large scale and with unsolicited data. Methods: The sample consisted of 5534 messages in 1708 threads, written by 2071 users of a forum for cancer patients and their relatives. We labeled the posts in our sample with 2 types of labels: labels referring to empowerment processes and labels denoting psychological processes. The latter were identified using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) method. Both groups of labels were automatically assigned to posts. Automatic labeling of the empowerment processes was done by text classifiers trained on a manually labeled subsample. For the automatic labeling of the LIWC categories, we used the Dutch version of the LIWC consisting of a total of 66 word categories that are assigned to text based on occurrences of words in the text. After the automatic labeling with both types of labels, we investigated (1) the relationship between empowerment processes and the intensity of online participation, (2) the relationship between empowerment processes and the LIWC categories, and (3) the differences between patients with different types of cancer. Results: The precision of the automatic labeling was 85.6%, which we considered to be sufficient for automatically labeling the complete corpus and doing further analyses on the labeled data. Overall, 62.94% (3482/5532) of the messages contained a narrative, 23.83% (1318/5532) a question, and 27.49% (1521/5532) informational support. Emotional support and references to external sources were less frequent. Users with more posts more often referred to an external source and more often provided informational support and emotional support (Kendall τ>0.2; P<.001) and less often shared narratives (Kendall τ=−0.297; P<.001). A number of LIWC categories are significant predictors for the empowerment processes: words expressing assent (ok and yes) and emotional processes (expressions of feelings) are significant positive predictors for emotional support (P=.002). The differences between patients with different types of cancer are small. Conclusions: Empowerment processes are associated with the intensity of online use. The relationship between linguistic analyses and empowerment processes indicates that empowerment processes can be identified from the occurrences of specific linguistic cues denoting psychological processes.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Article numbere9887
JournalJMIR Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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