COVID-19 Information on Twitter
It appears that Twitter has become the preferred social media platform to communicate facts, myths, and opinions about COVID-19.
In this analysis of COVID-19-related information on Twitter, researchers determined that celebrities, politicians, and health agencies had the most likes and retweets. These were significantly more than universities, medical associations, and scientific journals. Celebrities and politicians typically posted more positive messages whereas health agencies used more negative language. Because active engagement of Twitter influencers may keep messages viral, it is important to consider building partnerships with celebrities to spread key messages and for health and academic organizations to frame messages with positive language.
Knowing what information about COVID-19 is being communicated, how it is framed, and how trends change, government officials, health care organizations, and policymakers can use this information to frame messages to affect the spread of the virus. In an analysis of 13.9 million COVID-19-related English tweets, researchers determined that the largest percentage of tweets were related to COVID-19’s effect on the economy followed by the increase in the number of cases, treatment options, effect on health care, and the government’s response. The positive or negative framing depended on the topic of the tweet.
Public health agencies and governmental stakeholders can learn risk and crisis communication strategies from the analysis of COVID-19 information dissemination on Twitter. By assessing 13,598 COVID-19-related tweets from federal- and state-level agencies, researchers recognized 16 categories of message types (e.g., strategies and guidance, external resources/knowledge, opinion and commentary). They then assessed the communication in terms of sufficiency, timeliness, congruence, consistency, and coordination among stakeholders. Agencies have increased their attention to the pandemic over time with an increase in attempts to educate the public about preventive strategies. However, tweets were shown to be insufficient, incongruent, and inconsistent.
A joint statement from WHO, UN, UNICEF, UNDP, UNESCO, UNAIDS, ITU, UN Global Pulse, and IFRC condemns misinformation and disinformation online and offline due to physical, psychological, and social implications. Managing the infodemic is critical to controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement calls on all member states and international organizations to develop and implement action plans to manage the infodemic by promoting timely dissemination of accurate, evidence-based information to empower all communities.
This editorial goes a step further and argues that the “misinformation virus” from the infodemic may be due to misrepresentations from public figures. The author argues for more vigorous and innovative strategies to confront calculated distortions of truth perpetrated by certain public figures and politicians. She argues that individuals in power need to be held legally accountable.