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Virtual Zika transmission after the first U.S. case: who said what and how it spread on Twitter

Published:January 04, 2018DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajic.2017.10.015

      Highlights

      • Transmission, effects on pregnancy, and travel were the top 3 Zika themes on Twitter.
      • News media, public health institutions, and grassroots users exert the most influence.
      • News media play an important role during EIDOS by spreading information via Twitter.
      • Grassroots users are very visible; they amplify social concerns and conspiracy theories.
      • Social media analytics can strengthen public health agencies' efforts during EIDOs.

      Background

      This paper goes beyond detecting specific themes within Zika-related chatter on Twitter, to identify the key actors who influence the diffusive process through which some themes become more amplified than others.

      Methods

      We collected all Zika-related tweets during the 3 months immediately after the first U.S. case of Zika. After the tweets were categorized into 12 themes, a cross-section were grouped into weekly datasets, to capture 12 amplifier/user groups, and analyzed by 4 amplification modes: mentions, retweets, talkers, and Twitter-wide amplifiers.

      Results

      We analyzed 3,057,130 tweets in the United States and categorized 4997 users. The most talked about theme was Zika transmission (~58%). News media, public health institutions, and grassroots users were the most visible and frequent sources and disseminators of Zika-related Twitter content. Grassroots users were the primary sources and disseminators of conspiracy theories.

      Conclusions

      Social media analytics enable public health institutions to quickly learn what information is being disseminated, and by whom, regarding infectious diseases. Such information can help public health institutions identify and engage with news media and other active information providers. It also provides insights into media and public concerns, accuracy of information on Twitter, and information gaps. The study identifies implications for pandemic preparedness and response in the digital era and presents the agenda for future research and practice.

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