Characterization and comparison of the utilization of facebook groups between public medical professionals and technical communities to facilitate idea sharing and crowdsourcing during the covid-19 pandemic: Cross-sectional observational study

Helen Xun, Waverley He, Jonlin Chen, Scott Sylvester, Sheera F. Lerman, Julie Caffrey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Strict social distancing measures owing to the COVID-19 pandemic have led people to rely more heavily on social media, such as Facebook groups, as a means of communication and information sharing. Multiple Facebook groups have been formed by medical professionals, laypeople, and engineering or technical groups to discuss current issues and possible solutions to the current medical crisis. Objective: This study aimed to characterize Facebook groups formed by laypersons, medical professionals, and technical professionals, with specific focus on information dissemination and requests for crowdsourcing. Methods: Facebook was queried for user-created groups with the keywords "COVID," "Coronavirus," and "SARS-CoV-2" at a single time point on March 31, 2020. The characteristics of each group were recorded, including language, privacy settings, security requirements to attain membership, and membership type. For each membership type, the group with the greatest number of members was selected, and in each of these groups, the top 100 posts were identified using Facebook's algorithm. Each post was categorized and characterized (evidence-based, crowd-sourced, and whether the poster self-identified). STATA (version 13 SE, Stata Corp) was used for statistical analysis. Results: Our search yielded 257 COVID-19-related Facebook groups. Majority of the groups (n=229, 89%) were for laypersons, 26 (10%) were for medical professionals, and only 2 (1%) were for technical professionals. The number of members was significantly greater in medical groups (21,215, SD 35,040) than in layperson groups (7623, SD 19,480) (P<.01). Medical groups were significantly more likely to require security checks to attain membership (81% vs 43%; P<.001) and less likely to be public (3 vs 123; P<.001) than layperson groups. Medical groups had the highest user engagement, averaging 502 (SD 633) reactions (P<.01) and 224 (SD 311) comments (P<.01) per post. Medical professionals were more likely to use the Facebook groups for education and information sharing, including academic posts (P<.001), idea sharing (P=.003), resource sharing (P=.02) and professional opinions (P<.001), and requesting for crowdsourcing (P=.003). Layperson groups were more likely to share news (P<.001), humor and motivation (P<.001), and layperson opinions (P<.001). There was no significant difference in the number of evidence-based posts among the groups (P=.10). Conclusions: Medical professionals utilize Facebook groups as a forum to facilitate collective intelligence (CI) and are more likely to use Facebook groups for education and information sharing, including academic posts, idea sharing, resource sharing, and professional opinions, which highlights the power of social media to facilitate CI across geographic distances. Layperson groups were more likely to share news, humor, and motivation, which suggests the utilization of Facebook groups to provide comedic relief as a coping mechanism. Further investigations are necessary to study Facebook groups' roles in facilitating CI, crowdsourcing, education, and community-building.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere22983
JournalJMIR Formative Research
Volume5
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Cognitive intelligence
  • Communication
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Evidence-based
  • Facebook
  • Facebook groups
  • Internet
  • Social media
  • Virtual communities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Computer Science Applications

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