Public response to a social media tobacco prevention campaign: Content analysis

Anuja Majmundar, Nam Quyen Le, Meghan Bridgid Moran, Jennifer B. Unger, Katja Reuter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Prior research suggests that social media–based public health campaigns are often targeted by countercampaigns. Objective: Using reactance theory as the theoretical framework, this research characterizes the nature of public response to tobacco prevention messages disseminated via a social media–based campaign. We also examine whether agreement with the prevention messages is associated with comment tone and nature of the contribution to the overall discussion. Methods: User comments to tobacco prevention messages, posted between April 19, 2017 and July 12, 2017, were extracted from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Two coders categorized comments in terms of tone, agreement with message, nature of contribution, mentions of government agency and regulation, promotional or spam comments, and format of comment. Chi-square analyses tested associations between agreement with the message and tone of the public response and the nature of contributions to the discussions. Results: Of the 1242 comments received (Twitter: n=1004; Facebook: n=176; Instagram: n=62), many comments used a negative tone (42.75%) and disagreed with the health messages (39.77%), while the majority made healthy contributions to the discussions (84.38%). Only 0.56% of messages mentioned government agencies, and only 0.48% of the comments were antiregulation. Comments employing a positive tone (84.13%) or making healthy contributions (69.11%) were more likely to agree with the campaign messages (P=0.01). Comments employing a negative tone (71.25%) or making toxic contributions (36.26%) generally disagreed with the messages (P=0.01). Conclusions: The majority of user comments in response to a tobacco prevention campaign made healthy contributions. Our findings encourage the use of social media to promote dialogue about controversial health topics such as smoking. However, toxicity was characteristic of comments that disagreed with the health messages. Managing negative and toxic comments on social media is a crucial issue for social media–based tobacco prevention campaigns to consider.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere20649
JournalJMIR Public Health and Surveillance
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Facebook
  • Health campaign
  • Health communication
  • Instagram
  • Internet
  • Online
  • Social media
  • Tobacco
  • Twitter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Informatics
  • Medicine(all)


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