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

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Background: Social media facilitate the circulation of Ebola-related information and misinformation. We aim to analyze what kinds of misinformation were circulating at the outset of the 2014 Ebola epidemic, the volume of alternative information compared to standard public health advice, and whether the alternative health information was globally present by analyzing Twitter and Sina Weibo contents.

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 ~1% of the Twitter universe, of which tweets containing the keyword Ebola were analyzed. We retrieved all Sina Weibo posts with either of two Chinese keywords for Ebola for analysis. Trending and fading analysis was performed for keywords, hashtags and web links. We identified alternative health information by manual coding and categorization of randomly selected sub-datasets.

Results: Ebola-related alternative health information constituted a minority of Twitter and Weibo contents. The predominant content was information released by public health agencies and the major news agencies, channels and newspapers. 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: Public health authorities can be assured that in the 2014 Ebola outbreak, Twitter and Weibo are platforms that help circulate outbreak news and scientific health information.


International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases (ICEID)


Atlanta, GA