Social Network Analysis of COVID-19 Public Discourse on Twitter: Implications for Risk Communication

Paola Pascual-Ferrá, Neil Alperstein, Daniel J. Barnett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

ObjectiveThe purpose of this study was to demonstrate the use of social network analysis to understand public discourse on Twitter around the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). We examined different network properties that might affect the successful dissemination by and adoption of public health messages from public health officials and health agencies.MethodsWe focused on conversations on Twitter during three key communication events from late January to early June of 2020. We used Netlytic, a free web-based software that collects publicly available data from social media sites such as Twitter.ResultsWe found that the network of conversations around COVID-19 is highly decentralized, fragmented, and loosely connected; these characteristics can hinder the successful dissemination of public health messages in a network. Competing conversations and misinformation can hamper risk communication efforts in a way that imperil public health.ConclusionLooking at basic metrics might create a misleading picture of the effectiveness of risk communication efforts on social media if not analyzed within the context of the larger network. Social network analysis of conversations on social media should be an integral part of how public health officials and agencies plan, monitor, and evaluate risk communication efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalDisaster medicine and public health preparedness
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2020

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • World Health Organization (WHO)
  • risk communication
  • social media
  • social network analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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