Twitter Reactions to Global Health News Related to Five Different Countries: A Case Study of #Polio

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Social media has become a vital tool for global health communication, given the penetration of the internet and mobile phones across the world. In addition to disseminating health information, public health professionals also monitor traditional media and social media to assess the communication environment. Prior research showed that outbreak-related social media contents were largely driven by traditional media reports. However, we hypothesized that different types of news contents could trigger different levels of reaction on social media. In this study, we retrospectively examined a 40% random sample of Twitter data containing the hashtag #polio from January 2014 to April 2015 (N=79333), from which we extracted five sub-corpora each with a co-occurring hashtag #India, #Iraq, #Nigeria, #Pakistan, and #Syria respectively. We also retrieved 104 polio-related traditional news stories from 2 newspapers, 2 television news stations, and 2 radio news stations within the same time frame. We assessed the relationship between polio-related news from traditional news sources and the Twitter content. We hypothesized that polio-specific Twitter conversations differed by the location of interest and they were reactions to traditional media news articles. Descriptive analyses and unsupervised machine learning were conducted on the 5 Twitter sub-corpora to elucidate their underlying topics. Traditional media articles were grouped according to the country of interest and were categorized into the following topics: celebrations or achievements; violence or crises; political actions; vaccinations or other programs/aid; new cases or spreading of polio; and miscellaneous. Strong Twitter reactions were observed following a few news stories published by traditional media but not the others. Our evidences suggest a nuanced relationship between outbreak-related traditional media stories and Twitter contents. Evidence from our study helps inform media monitoring and communication surveillance during global public health crises, such as infectious disease outbreaks, as well as reactions to health promotion campaigns.


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


Baltimore, MD