Public health tweets struggled to reflect local realities at start of pandemic: study
A new study that examined thousands of tweets from Canadian public health officials during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests many struggled to tailor messaging to local communities.
The study published online this month in the journal Health & Place analyzed close to 7,000 tweets from public health agencies and officials at all levels of government over the first six months of last year.
Researchers at McMaster University and the University of Waterloo found the tweets initially focused on sharing information from experts, before shifting to promoting health measures such as social distancing.
But they say the messages often failed to reflect the situation in local communities despite the significant variations in transmission levels and other factors.
The study also found only two per cent of tweets addressed misinformation and myths surrounding COVID-19.
The researchers say acknowledging uncertainty and public concerns is a key part of building trust and promoting health measures during a public health crisis.
"It has been critical for public health officials, who are often considered trusted experts, to provide quick and clear information on disease transmission, what constitutes safe and risky behaviour and what community supports are available to slow the spread of the virus," lead author Catherine Slavik said in a statement.
"Tweets that focus on community efforts to fight the pandemic... are really important for building institutional trust, for establishing human connections between the community and local officials who are there to serve them. We were surprised public health officials did not put more emphasis on messages showcasing people coming together or local programs helping to keep us safe," said Slavik, a graduate student of health geography at McMaster University.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2021.