Facts and Rumors: Social Media Reaction to Information and Misinformation on Ebola

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Objectives: We analyzed the misinformation circulating on Twitter and Sina Weibo (the leading Chinese microblog platform) at the outset of the 2014 Ebola epidemic.

Methods: We retrieved Twitter and Weibo data created within 24 hours of the WHO announcement of Public Health Emergency of International Concern (Batch 1) and seven days later (Batch 2). We obtained a 1% random sample of the Twitter universe, of which tweets containing the keyword Ebola were analyzed. We retrieved all Weibo posts with Chinese keywords for Ebola for analysis. Trending and fading analysis was performed for keywords, hashtags and web links. We identified misinformation by manual coding and categorization of randomly selected sub-datasets.

Results: Ebola-related misinformation constituted a minority of Twitter and Weibo contents. The predominant content was information released by public health agencies and the major news agencies. Two misinformed speculated "treatment" predominated in Twitter posts. Saltwater was speculated to be protective against Ebola in the first batch of tweets, but faded a week later. "Nano-silver" was on the top 10 trending Twitter list. Chinese microblogs focused on the Chinese government sending medical assistance to Africa.

Conclusions: In the 2014 Ebola epidemic, Twitter and Weibo are platforms that circulate outbreak news and scientific health information.


American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting (ASTMH)


Pennsylvania, PA