Social Networks

The value of social networks to engage and inform global citizens during an epidemic


This paper discusses the growing role of social media (SM) platforms to inform and connect communities during epidemics in the digital age, compared to a time when online networks were not as available or utilised by the huge volume of global citizens and Government agencies who use them today. While acknowledging valid concerns around the ease with which misinformation may be spread on SM, important uses of SM platforms are examined in relation to their ability to assist with disease surveillance, their capacity to inform a broad demographic in a timely manner and their assistance in uniting citizens in efforts to control disease outbreaks, concluding that SM is a vital communication tool for keeping populations both informed and connected during an epidemic.


Citizens, governments and medical professionals are uniting around the globe in efforts to slow the spread of the current COVID-19 pandemic that has (as at 25 April, 2020) claimed 184,681 lives and reported 2,686,785 confirmed cases ( This paper will discuss the important use of social networks to engage and inform online communities and gather information during a public health crisis. I will consider a time when SM was not available during previous epidemics, such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic. I will explore how the development of Web 2.0 innovations has better impacted dissemination of information by whistle blowers, concerned professionals, health organisations and Government agencies. While acknowledging the concerns around the spread of misinformation and rumour on SM, I will demonstrate the effective use of SM platforms in previous epidemics and during the Dresden Floods in 2013.  I will demonstrate how Twitter mining has been used in disease surveillance, and finally I will demonstrate how SM has become a vital component during the COVID-19 pandemic to connect, inform, entertain and unite global citizens.  This paper will argue that, despite the ease with which misinformation and fake news can spread on SM, it has evolved in the digital age as an essential and effective tool for communication and information during epidemics.

Unsubstantiated Claims and Fake News

There have long been valid concerns about misinformation and rhetoric during epidemics. Professor Huiling Ding in her 2014 book Rhetoric of a Global Epidemic: Transcultural Communication about SARS, includes information on rhetoric communicated during the SARS epidemic in 2002-2004. Ding (2014) explains that, due to the secrecy of the Chinese Government, citizens relied on limited communication tools to share their concerns (p.106). Ding says speculation and rumour had begun to circulate via alternative media, including websites and text messages, stating that:

In the media contestation in China during the SARS outbreak, the state apparatuses maintained strategic control of both traditional mass media and the Internet through constant policing. To circumvent the state surveillance, the public resorted to the tactical use of alternative media to distribute and receive unauthorized risk messages and dissenting political views. (Ding, 2014, p. 106).

Ding (2014) explored two types of emerging rhetoric. The first she terms “the rhetoric of proclamation,” (p.107), which she explains was used by individuals to distribute dramatic and exaggerated claims to eager audiences who were happy to accept and share statements that were often unverified (p.107). The second, Ding termed: “the rhetoric of personal narratives which [she said] was [used mostly anonymously] by professionals and individual whistle blowers” to disseminate what they deemed important health risk information (p. 107). I will explore this second example later, when examining the importance of developing technology to connect and inform global citizens during an epidemic.

Ding (2014) cautions that many of the anonymous narratives, initially sent (mostly via text messages) by professionals to warn their immediate networks of the emerging epidemic, were very embellished by gossip and rumour, travelling rapidly among expanding networks (p.112). She explains that: “In such messages, the disease was identified as avian flu, Pestis, the plague, Legionnaires disease, and anthracnose. Some versions attributed the disease to mutation of imported pollen. Others claimed it was bio attacks from the United States or Taiwan” (Ding, 2014, p.112).

These same type of unsubstantiated claims and rumour (also known as fake news) are present in today’s digital age during the current COVID-19 pandemic on SM sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Resulting patterns include panic buying, rumour and division, however these were experienced in epidemic situations long before the advent of SM (Ding, 2014, p.104). While SM may assist in amplifying those scenarios, fake news forms only part of the information disseminated via SM and other sources during an epidemic. There are many positive examples of the use of SM to spread credible and vital information which I will now explore.

Whistle blowers and concerned citizens

 The emergence of technology has played an important role in the history of epidemics, enabling whistle blowers, professionals and concerned citizens to warn their fellow countrymen and other global publics of what they consider to be important public health risks.

During the SARS epidemic, Ding (2014) explains that Transnational and International media, while receiving many sources of information from within China, were lacking someone they could deem a credible whistle blower (p.119). That whistle blower emerged as “Dr. Jiang Yanyong, a [retired] 76-year-old veteran physician from the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital” (Ding, 2014, p.119). Dr Jiang was angry when China’s then “Health Minister Zhang Wenkang claimed in a press conference on April 3, 2003 that SARS was under control, that Beijing had twelve cases and three deaths, and that it was safe to travel and work in Beijing” (Zhu, 2003, as cited in Ding, 2014, p.119). Dr. Jiang learned from colleagues of 146 confirmed cases of SARS across just three military hospitals in Beijing. In efforts to warn his fellow Chinese citizens and others abroad, on April 8, he met with Susan Jakes, a journalist from Time Magazine. Dr Jiang’s story was published on Time’s website and was picked up by major media all over the world, alerting global citizens to the concerning spread of SARS (Ding, 2014, p.120). Ding suggests Dr. Jiang bridged the gap between China’s Ministry of Health updates to the public and the true experiences of health professionals in China. The impacts of his actions enabled other doctors to validate his concerns (p.122). This event highlights how important it is for communities going forward to have a voice to disseminate important knowledge and information during an epidemic.

Another important incidence of whistle blowing in an epidemic occurred in December 2019. Before the world was aware of a new Coronavirus, Dr. Li Wenliang, a 33-year-old Chinese Ophthalmologist working at the Wuhan Central Hospital, reported a suspected outbreak of a SARS like illness. After hearing that patients were being quarantined, Li sent a message to a group of his colleagues in a closed group chat via a SM platform called WeChat (Green, 2020, p.682). Li’s initial intention was to warn his fellow medical professionals whose health could be impacted working near possible infections (p.682). Sadly, this concern was substantiated when Li himself became ill with the virus and passed away on February 7. Prior to his death, Li spoke with The New York Times and said: “If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier, I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency” (The New York Times as cited in Green, 2020, p.682). His courageous efforts enabled others to raise concerns and as such forced the Chinese Government to release information in relation to the virus.

It is not only whistle blowers who have shared valuable knowledge and rallied support on SM during a public health crisis. Many medical professionals have made pleas via sites such as Facebook Twitter and YouTube to demand early action from Governments and to inspire public support for the necessary social distancing and isolation practices during COVID-19.  This type of activity on SM echoes what Delanty (2009) defines as community. Delanty defines community as “a system of social relations, rather than something defined by place,” stating that: “community also entails belonging in the sense of sharing something” (p.214). Using the above examples, people of varied citizenship and with varied knowledge are sharing information, advice, statistics and personal narratives in online communities about a pandemic that has unprecedented social, economic and political impacts, proving many global citizens experience a wide versed connectivity via SM during an epidemic. 

The effective use of Facebook and Twitter during epidemics and disasters

As official agencies recognise SM as an important tool for both gathering and communicating information, the affordance of particular SM platforms appear more useful during an epidemic. On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the first global flu epidemic in 41 years (National Public Radio Inc [US], 2009). The H1N1 flu was problematic due to its ability for rapid transmission around the globe (Liu and Kim, 2011, p.233) and initially it attracted a flurry of media attention. Liu and Kim explain that, over time, media attention waned and public health agencies and crisis management teams were faced with a challenge to keep communities both informed and engaged over the longer term of the pandemic which lasted until August 2010 (Fisher Liu and Kim, 2011, p.233).

Fisher Liu and Kim (2011) also found that, although experts at the time claimed that the H1N1 pandemic represented a benchmark for effective use of SM to respond to crises (Smith, 2009, Suter, 2009, as cited in Fisher Liu and Kim, 2011), traditional media was used more heavily to frame the crisis as a disaster (p.241). The researchers suggest this was because formal policy around SM use by government and corporate organisations was only in the early stages of development in 2009 (p.241). Fisher Liu and Kim (2011) also found that SM was often used to link to traditional media during the H1N1 pandemic (p.241), this is an important development as it enables information to be spread quickly to a much broader demographic.

SM has proved an effective tool historically to recruit public action during a crisis. Danish scholar Kristoffer Albris (2018) explains the citizen response via SM to the Dresden Floods in 2013 which he claims created a “switchboard mechanism” (p. 350). Facebook and Twitter groups gathered information from citizens needing help and then connected them with volunteer organisations to coordinate offline response (Albris, 2018, p.353). Albris explains that online communities formed by Facebook Groups such as Fluthilfe Dresden (Flood Help Dresden), Hochwasser Dresden (High Water Dresden) and Elbpegelstand (Elbe Level) “traded pictures and eyewitness accounts [on their Facebook group pages and in doing so], actively participated in the management of the emergency” (p.353). Locals shared general narratives about the floods and also distributed important location advice for areas most needing sandbags and floodwalls. They coordinated the preparation of food for victims and other volunteers and participated in real-world tasks (Albris, 2018, p. 353). This ability of SM to inspire public response is also essential during an epidemic.

Important studies in relation to SM use in regard to public health surveillance have emerged in recent years (Jordan et al., 2018, p.2). A 2016 study examined the effect of mining Twitter data to track the outbreak of Bubonic Plague in Madagascar in 2014 (Da’ar et al., 2017), the study found that Twitter is able to contribute in alerting public health agencies about the outbreak of disease faster than the more traditional means of disease surveillance (p.397). The study explains that globally, public health agencies used “electronic monitoring systems such as EpiSPIDER, HealthMap, BioCaster and the Global Health intelligence [to] Network mine websites like Twitter [using keyword searches] for any reports of flagged diseases [to] provide a real-time tracking of disease progression” (Da’ar et al., 2017, p.397).  A similar study in 2019 examined the use of Twitter data to improve surveillance of the 2016 Zika Virus. Researchers found that Twitter could be used to predict disease activity as well as “serve to signal changes in disease activity during an outbreak period” (Masri et al., 2019, p.12). The affordances of particular social networks to inform public health agencies and to encourage positive and effective public action against disease transmission are essential developments as we consider the use of SM during the COVID-19 crisis that has occurred in a now truly digital age.

Epidemics in the Digital Age

The rapid evolution of SM has seen SM platforms and apps become vital communication tools. A WHO report in 2011 titled Strengthening Response to Pandemics and Other Public-Health Emergencies: Report of the Review Committee on the Functioning of the International Health Regulations (2005) and on Pandemic Influenza (H1N1) 2009 recommended that in future crises “WHO should invest in a robust social media presence for rapid communication to a wider, more diverse, audience” (WHO, 2011, p.20). Findings by the review committee include the following statement (in relation to SM use during H1N1): “Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc have given global communication new dimensions. Because WHO had no policy on (and few resources dedicated to) social media, the Organization’s dialogue with the outside world was compromised” (WHO, 2011, p.120). This was an important finding in relation to future epidemics. According to a 2019 report by Datareportal cited in, there were 3.484 billion SM users in the world in 2019, with estimates forecasting four billion SM users by 2021, equating to a potential 6 out of every 10 people in the world having a social network account by 2024 (, 2019).  A 2018 study found WHO and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) have now developed policy and procedures around SM messaging that have seen public relations expand into the social network space to ensure that all necessary demographics are reached, particularly in a time of crises (Tang et al., 2018, p. 963). In 2020, response to the COVID-19 pandemic has seen health agencies active on SM. There are also links to live updates on traditional media sources from Prime Ministers, Ministers and Presidents streamed across sites including Facebook and Twitter.

Social networks have been utilised for a variety of purposes during this pandemic. Medical professionals have shared their recommendations. Musicians have broadcast messages of hope and entertained through online concerts to ease the burden of isolation. Satirical memes have added to comedic relief. Online gaming communities and streaming services such as Netflix have provided important releases for families. Technology including Zoom, Skype, Facetime and other Cloud based software have saved jobs by enabling a work from home option. Websites have been linked on SM that provide information on Government stimulus packages providing support during unprecedented months of unemployment and economic uncertainty. Images are shared on SM of situations faced by medical professionals in countries where their systems have been overwhelmed, because of inadequate early response. Social distancing and lock-down measures are being communicated and complied with in many countries and images of those in lock-down applauding the work of health professionals are shared around the world. This online connectivity provides a sense of belonging and impacts on citizen response promoting the sentiment that we are all in this pandemic together.


This paper concludes that SM is a necessary and vital component in the digital age for keeping populations both informed and connected during an epidemic. SM is a significant tool when there is need to encourage widespread public response and action. During this latest pandemic, SM has seen contributions that have provided understanding of the COVID-19 virus and the enormous response required to reduce its transmission rates.  This paper has also evidenced that keyword data mining of social networks can contribute to disease surveillance.

Critical thinking and caution are important factors in effectively separating useful information from fake news and personal agenda on SM. Though the ability for whistle blowers and knowledgeable professionals to use SM to spread their concerns and advice has proved extremely valuable, wild unsubstantiated claims can also be spread, not only by individuals, but by those who may otherwise be viewed as ‘credible’ sources. This paper has proven however that SM is nonetheless a vital tool in the now digital age to disseminate and demand the flow of essential, credible, public health advice and to keep citizens united in the fight to control disease outbreaks.

Future studies stemming from the current pandemic in relation to SM platforms and their effectiveness in conveying (and providing) accurate information in a timely manner and in championing the necessary measures (from Governments and their publics) to slow down transmission rates of disease, will provide useful data for future health crises.


Albris, K. (2018). The switchboard mechanism: How social media connected citizens during the 2013 floods in Dresden. J Contingencies and Crisis Management. 2018(26), 350–357.           

Da’ar, B., Yunis, F., Hossain, N. Md., Househ, M. (2017). Impact of Twitter intensity, time and location on message lapse of bluebird’s pursuit of fleas in Madagascar. Journal of Infection and Public Health 10(4), 396-402.

Delanty, G. (2018). Community 3rd Edition. London. Routledge.

Ding, H. (2014). Rhetoric of a Global Epidemic: Transcultural Communication about SARS. Southern Illinois University Press.

Fisher Liu, B., Kim, S. (2011). How organizations framed the 2009 H1N1 pandemic via social and traditional media: Implications for U.S. health communicators. Public Relations Review, 37, 233-244.

Green, A., (2020). Li Wenliang. The Lancet, 395(10225) 682-682., (2020, April 25). Coronavirus (COVID-19) current situation and case numbers.

Jordan, S.E., Hovet, S.E., Fung, I.C.-H., Liang, H., Fu, K.-@., Tse, Z.T.H. (2019). Using Twitter for Public Health Surveillance from Monitoring and Prediction to Public Response. Data 2019, 4, 6.

Masri, S., Jia, J., Li, C. et al. (2019). Use of Twitter data to improve Zika virus surveillance in the United States during the 2016 epidemic. BMC Public Health 19, 761.

National Public Radio Inc [US], (2009, June 11). WHO Declares Swine Flu A Pandemic.

Smith, S. (2009, December 11). New media spread the word on H1N1: Twitter, YouTube messages aimed at public. Boston Globe.

Sutter, J. D. (2009, April 30). Swine flu creates controversy on Twitter. CNN

Tang, L; Bie, B.J., Park, S.E, Zhi, D.G. (2018). Social media and outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases: A systematic review of literature. American Journal Of Infection Control, 46(9), 962-972.

The New York Times (February 7, 2020) He Warned of Coronavirus. Here’s What He Told Us Before He Died.

World Health Organisation (WHO), (2011). Report of the Review Committee on the Functioning of the International Health Regulations (2005) in relation to Pandemic (H1N1) 2009.

Zhu, Y. (2003, April 3). Minister of Health Zhang Wenkang announced, ‘China is Safe.’ Zinghua News Agency.

33 replies on “The value of social networks to engage and inform global citizens during an epidemic”

Hi Leanne!

I enjoyed reading a paper that was based on such a contemporary situation, it will be interesting to see if aspects of your research continues to hold relevance over the duration of the three weeks with how quickly COVID-19 continues to develop.
I agree with your sentiment that social media has greatly aided in the world’s management of the epidemic, even just today we are seeing the roll out of the COVIDSafe app to assist in tracking its spread. However, I also wonder if social media has hindered the situation at all? Very much like traditional media, social networks seem to find the greatest success in sensationalised reporting, and given that anyone can publish on social media I have definitely seen my fair share of misleading stories that either downplay or worsen the situation. One example I have come across is New York’s situation in which morgues and crematoriums are too “full” to assist any more bodies and the city has now resorted to mass graves on Hart Island. This news was spreading across social media with footage of refrigeration trucks filled with bodies and drone footage of mass-burials on the island causing almost-hysteria.

I then watched a YouTube video by a mortician who dispelled these worries by explain that New York’s funeral industry was already dealing with similar issues prior to COVID and that mass burials on the island had always been taking place – both things that the media tended to ignore in their reporting!

This example shows both the way social media has hindered through misinformation but then also aided through rectifying this misinformation.
It would be interesting to see the balance between the negative and positive impacts of social media on the situation, but personally for me it has saved me from a lot of boredom. I look forward to following this paper as the weeks and COVID progress!

Hi Lachlan
Thanks for reading my paper and leaving a comment.

Your point about exaggerated or misleading images and reports is a very valid one of course, and the example was an interesting one – though it made me cringe at the way the presenter seemed to think a pandemic and a thousand deaths a day was really not such a big deal. Just a normal event in history even. Wow. However, as you say, there are many examples of media that don’t cover all the ‘facts’ and sensationalise some aspect for the sake of a ‘story’.

I agree, this situation is changing so quickly it will be interesting to see how the Government’s efforts to engage with the population and discourage the spread of the disease holds up over time. Once the natives become restless and the economy feels the beating even more keenly, it will be difficult to maintain the current levels of compliance.

I like your balanced view that at least social media (unlike the more traditional forms) has the ability to post misinformation, but also the ability to quickly argue/correct it, that’s an important aspect I think and one I hadn’t thought about in my paper.

I also agree that social networks and apps have kept people entertained and connected during restrictions – I’ve no doubt that Facetime has been a welcome innovation for families not able to visit their loved ones. I can’t imagine what the millennials may have done without social media in these circumstances.

“I can’t imagine what millennials may have done without social media in these circumstances”.. interesting thought! I wonder without technology if we would have seen less obedience towards social isolation thus less success in flattening the curve?
I also wonder if we were to look back at case studies regarding similar situations like the Spanish Flu in the early twentieth century how a society that relied solely on physical socialisation dealt with it all!

Hi Lachlan – yes I think that social media has really contributed to young people (for the most part) being very supportive of the social distancing laws. I have to say I’m really impressed with the often maligned ‘me’ generation (a tag I really dislike) because the virus is not as likely to harm them as it is elderly or more vulnerable young people with respiratory disorders etc, so I think the responsibility they have shown for the most part is a real credit to them. I believe SM has helped because they have a means for entertainment and a way of keeping connected with their friends during isolation or distancing. And I have to admit I think the ‘fear’ factor that SM can also generate (misinformation or exaggeration as it may be as we have previously discussed) probably contributed to that compliance.

It will be interesting to see how it holds up if, when the social distancing laws are relaxed, we encounter a second wave and more social distancing laws are enacted. I hope this isn’t the result, as life is of course to be lived and I do hope all of us, young and old, get many more opportunities to live it!

I’ll see what I can find on the Spanish flu situation and get back to you.

Hey Leanne!
I like that you outline that you will compare pandemics with and without social media in the first paragraph. That definitely got my interest!
Great use of examples with misinformation. Something that came to mind was that example of a couple posting pictures of a trip they took, someone reporting them, and then the police finding out those photographs were taken a year ago.
I enjoyed how you used your Ding source – it was very well laid out for the reader and made it an enjoyable read.
I agree with your source about early action. I recently read an article by the New Yorker about how Seattle and New York handled Covid – it was a good read about communication and mentions social media often. If you want to read it, here’s the link:
Something to mention possibly would be that many news sites are making their Covid coverage free. This would promote the correct information getting out there, and add to credible sources, rather than the lack of information that causes hysteria. Social media sites (TikTok and Facebook) also give a disclaimer under any post mentioning Covid with a link to credible information.
I liked that you identified that WHO did not have protocol for social media previously.
Thank you for the read! I liked that you kept it modern and very relevant.

Hi Anne-Marie,

Do you have any specific examples of Facebook’s disclaimer for COVID related posts? I haven’t come across that yet and I’m interested to see what that looks like.


Hi Anna,

I haven’t seen a specific disclaimer, this is what they are saying on their Community Standards page on their website – it reads as though perhaps policy around COVID is still being developed?

“COVID-19: Community Standards updates and protections
As people around the world confront this unprecedented public health emergency, we want to make sure that our Community Standards protect people from harmful content and new types of abuse related to COVID-19. We’re working to remove content that has the potential to contribute to real-world harm, including through our policies prohibiting the coordination of harm, the sale of medical masks and related goods, hate speech, bullying and harassment, and misinformation that contributes to the risk of imminent violence or physical harm.
As the situation evolves, we are continuing to look at content on the platform, assess speech trends and engage with experts, and will provide additional policy guidance when appropriate to keep the members of our community safe during this crisis.”

I have seen an example of a post which was a video of people setting up outside a supermarket somewhere in Australia with huge shopping bags and going in and out of the same supermarket to stock up on baby formula (all the while giving filming onlookers ‘the bird’). It was included in a post that commented on busloads of people from Melbourne raiding supermarkets in small regional towns during the current pandemic. The video was greyed over and flagged as ‘disputed’ not because it didn’t happen, or because the busload raids of regional supermarkets didn’t happen – it was because the particular video was filmed at a time well in advance of the pandemic, when mass buying of baby formula that was being sent back to China was an issue for parents of young babies in Australia. So the video was not in context with the post hence Facebook’s decision to ‘dispute’ it. That’s one example I’ve seen.

Thanks for the clarfication Leanne! I’ll look into this a bit further 🙂

Hey Anna!
Here’s a few links discussing how Facebook and Covid disclaimers as well as actions they are taking:

Some great links there Anne-Marie – thank you!

It’s taken something as large as a global pandemic to make Facebook get serious about misinformation but at least the long held discussions are finally forcing some action. I noticed in the Reuters article that they are pointing people to a WHO site that lists common untruths and hoaxes about the virus – so there we go, a legitimate health agency combining with social media to spread official information – it’s a good start.

Thanks Anne-Marie!

I also did a bit of further research off the back of your response. Apparently Facebook flagged 50 million pieces of coronavirus misinformation in April (Statt, 2020). Statt’s article (2020) also has a link to Facebook’s Community Standard Enforcement Report, which has some interesting statistics about the way in which Facebook has been enforcing their community standards from October 2019 to March 2020. The report is here if you’re interested:

Thanks again!


Statt, N. (2020, May 12). How Facebook is using AI to combat COVID-19 misinformation and detect ‘hateful memes’. The Verge.

Anne-Marie, thank you for the kind feedback and thank you for posting that fantastic article from the New Yorker, I found it a really good read and it so greatly summed up the knowledge that epidemiologists already have about how the public are going to react to a pandemic and the importance of using trusted figureheads to convey public health information and explain the importance of the strict measures the Government will need to put in place to keep citizens safe. I think Australia has handled that quite well, though the PM addresses the nation daily he leaves the medical and science information to be conveyed by those who understand it best. In the USA we’ve seen something a little different – they’re sitting there off to the side but the looks of total bewilderment on their faces is sometimes alarming when the President is offering ‘medical’ advice – all the while acknowledging of course that ‘I’m not a Doctor’ – No, and that’s why you should stay in your lane!

A quote from the New Yorker article: “We’re trying to do something nearly impossible, which is get people to take an outbreak seriously when, for most Americans, they don’t know anyone who’s sick and, if the plan works, they’ll never meet anyone who’s sick.” I found interesting given the phase that we are fast approaching in Australia which is the relaxing of restrictions. The natives are getting restless and business owners are becoming impatient yet the reason that we have such great results thus far is the restrictions we put in place early. I do believe though that social media helped greatly in the early stages to promote images (and messages from health professionals) from all over the Globe that gave the general populations some idea of the gravity of the situation. Traditional media can do that but not as broadly, not as quickly and not with as many contributors – so repeated footage gets people a little bored and possibly complacent.

It will be very interesting to watch the next phase unfold. I hope the messages hold up and the people still show some restraint and attention to hygiene and social distancing. It will also be very interesting to see the success of the COVIDSafe App as society opens up again.


Hi Leanne!

I’m glad you loved it so much! I think it’s really important to analyse what approaches work and what didn’t work during/after a pandemic, so that we can be better prepared. Especially when we have so much new technology that citizens engage with constantly.

What do you think about different states in the US opening compared to others staying shut? Do you think this is because they’re trying to ignore anything Covid related?

Hi again Anne-Marie,

I think it’s once again a huge example of the great ‘Left and Right Divide’ and the fact that an election is relatively close. States with a Republican Governor are desperately trying to get the economy back on track to ensure that Trump is re-elected while those with a Democratic Governor are listening more to the advice of the health experts (and, let’s be honest, are probably equally as earnest in trying to make sure that President Trump doesn’t get re-elected).

I believe that New York’s Governor has done an excellent job under immense pressure, perhaps having a family member gravely effected by the virus helped him to understand early the dangers and then the harrowing statistics soon afterwards are enough for him to listen to the medical experts, rather than his own President.

All I can say is, I’m so grateful I don’t live in the USA.


Hi Leanne,

What a great paper! That must have been difficult to write given that things are changing so quickly at the moment. I think you presented a strong argument in support of your position that SM has an important role to play during a crisis.

Your reference to Delanty under the ‘Whistle blowers and concerned citizens’ section is interesting. To me, what you are describing is more of a network – but by applying Delanty’s definition of community you really tie in the idea that we are a global community looking out for each other, i.e. we’re all in this together 🙂

I was very surprised to discover that Twitter is a much more effective tool at tracking the outbreak of disease compared to traditional disease surveillance, and that Twitter can also be used to predict disease activity. I would be interested to know more about that. That really reinforces the important role that SM plays during a crisis. Just out of curiosity, do you know what types of tools and techniques are traditionally used to track the severity and spread of disease?

I thought the case study of the Dresden floods provided good evidence of the positive impact SM can have during periods of disaster. I’m sure there are many other examples of SM educating and uniting communities in the midst of a crisis.

Thanks again,

Hi Anna,

Just getting back to you on your question in relation to what tools and techniques are traditionally used for disease surveillance – this paragraph from Masri, et. al., (2019) explains a little about that:

“In the United States, disease surveillance is supported by the CDC Division of Health Informatics and Surveillance and is carried out through a variety of networks that involve the collaboration of thousands of agencies at the federal, state, territorial, and tribal levels across health departments, laboratories, and hospitals [10,11,12]. Importantly, while ZIKV cases reported from official sources such as the CDC are of high quality, such reporting is not timely due to an internal protocol of these offices to collect and verify data prior to formal publication.”

So the main benefits of Twitter in disease surveillance is the use of time and geo tagged information embedded in the Twitter data stream that provide more real-time results in relation to disease outbreaks.

I believe the studies and uses of Twitter for disease surveillance though are relatively new and still being developed, so to what extent Twitter will be used is still to be determined – but certainly the studies have been positive in relation to the perceived benefits.

Masri, S., Jia, J., Li, C. et al. (2019). Use of Twitter data to improve Zika virus surveillance in the United States during the 2016 epidemic. BMC Public Health 19, 761.

Hi Leanne,

You have produced a really well written, engaging and researched paper that, from the comments I have read so far, has been well received. It was refreshing to read a positive aspect of social media with a topic that is completely relevant to all our lives today.

The example of the Dresden Floods communicated the true, positive spirit that SM can invoke when used in a manner that is what I feel should be its purpose—to unite in the face of adversity. It actually gave me a good feeling just reading about the way they pulled together in an orchestrated, meaningful way.

It was interesting, and also a little disturbing, to read about the WHO’s lack of skills and resources in social media usage and how they have now developed policy and procedures to make use of this most effective way to disseminate information. Crazy to think that they hadn’t beforehand. (If they operated like a corporate business they would have had all that covered). Especially as it is also a means to give the public a ‘go-to-site’ that would provide factual-based information and therefore able to dispel any sensationalising and ‘fake news’ (hello Donald) that always seems to go hand in hand with SM.

I note you and Lachlan have referred to whether SM would have made any difference to the Spanish Flu. I think it would have definitely helped in alerting the public so that they could have taken measures to lessen the spread but without respirators, vaccines, general lack of health resources and hygiene practices you have to wonder if it would have made that much difference. Or maybe Lachlan was just referring to the boredom aspect? 😊

Good work Leanne, I was really impressed with the amount of quality information you managed to put into such a limited amount of words.


Thanks for your kind words Lee. I really struggled with this assessment, due to a myriad of reasons so it is nice to get such positive feedback.

Yes, it was surprising that WHO took such a long time to establish SM within their communications framework, though the report I referred to in my paper was written after the H1N1 pandemic which (to be fair) originated in 2009 – Facebook had only been around since 2006 and probably wasn’t a ‘tried and tested’ medium at that stage.

I do love your ‘Hello Donald’ reference – there is an exact example of a source who would otherwise be considered as relevant and informed – he’s the President of the United States with a substantial team of health professionals to advise him – yet he comes out with the most ludicrous and ill-informed statements. His advisers must just be cringing somewhere on the sidelines.

Your point in relation to whether SM would have made any difference in the time of the Spanish Flu is a good one – even though it would certainly have assisted to communicate advice and information – without the relevant medical equipment, drugs and vaccines it may not (as you say) have made a great deal of difference.


I do hope a vaccine for COVID is on the horizon, it is going to be essential for the people of the USA because their leader is not seemingly interested in the state of the pandemic otherwise.

Hi Leanne,

I really like your topic, especially during this time. Social media is an important model of communication in the contemporary world, especially during crisis situations; a majority of the world’s population is connected. Combatting Covid-19 requires a collaborative approach that encompasses both televised and social media. Communication is integral in disseminating real information to the population; hence the social networks are crucial elements of the information cycle. I agree with your analysis of the importance of social media during the Covid-19 pandemic as it serves the purpose of educating, informing, and entertaining. Your analysis of the SARS outbreak in China is also on point, illustrating how powerful communication tools can be during pandemics. Furthermore, your explanation of fake news being propagated through social media sites is true, especially during this time of a world pandemic sending people into a panic.

Your paper is a great article, giving in-depth analysis that is passionate and detailed enough to give the reader a better understanding of the implications of social media in combatting world pandemics like Covid-19.

Kind Regards,

Thanks for your comments Cynthia.

I do hope that social media continues to serve a purpose as this pandemic goes on. I think the need to get the economy moving again while maintaining a balance of control in terms of disease outbreaks will be such a tricky path for the Government and health agencies to navigate.
In Australia at least, people have listened and acted on the advice of the health agencies for the most part, but as budgets are stretched and businesses are out of action for the longer term, it will be very difficult to keep that momentum and united front.

Once again though, if we do have issues around a second wave or big clusters of COVID-19 it will be necessary to include SM in Government and Health agency communications to make sure all demographics are covered and that ‘official’ advice is circulated (albeit alongside the fake news or biased opinion).


Hi Leanne,

I hope so too! Yes, I agree. We need to get the economy moving again soon. It might be a bit difficult and hard but I’m sure as we can do it. Like you said, in Australia, people have listened to what the Government said and suggesting things we do such as social distancing, staying home and such, which is good and it’s proven that we as a community listened.

Ah. I actually just read the news about that, some prediction about the second wave of COVID-19. As you said, it is necessary to include SM to make sure news are well circulated.


Hi Leanne

Well done on your paper, which I found engaging and informative.
Even though SM clearly can play a beneficial role in informing people, do you think identifying misinformation has become much harder as a result? So many mainstream media outlets publish information which is now so often piggybacked by other media outlets on both left and right, mainly copy and paste jobs, and often omitting relevant facts to suit the narrative and many of these amended stories become fodder for sharing on SM.
I guess there’s a bittersweet irony to your mention of WHO in your article, considering their now compromised position as a trusted institution.
Do you believe other SM platforms such as Instagram and Twitter might offer a more trustworthy and reliable source of news than what can be found on Facebook? I agree more critical thinking is important in identifying misinformation, and I suppose it’s a bit like common sense, which sadly, isn’t so common.
A great read Leanne, well done.
Kind regards


Hi Bruno,

Thanks for your comments. Yes, misinformation is a continuing issue and one that SM platforms really need to keep working on in relation to disputing unsubstantiated claims etc. I have read a couple of examples in other papers here of that beginning to happen, but it is still not happening fast enough, as you say. “Omitting facts to suit the narrative” is so common right throughout the media landscape now however we still need vehicles to communicate to the masses in these scenarios.

I agree that Twitter which is more ‘news based’ is possibly a little more reliable than Facebook for general information, however Facebook can be used well when calling on people to act – so help out in a disaster or adhere to social distancing rules etc, but I’m not sure about Instagram. I see Instagram as a vital tool for communicating with the under 30s demographic so it needs to be utilised, but I don’t see a lot of ‘serious’ issues being discussed there. It’s been a good ‘entertainment’ vehicle though for young people while in isolation.

Thanks again Bruno for your support through this Unit, it has been very much appreciated.


Hi Leanne,
I enjoyed reading your paper, it is clear and well-structured as I could identify your thesis statement along with the points that support it.
The topic that you have chosen is current and it definitely captured my attention. Deeper into the topic, your examples were relevant to make your point considering that this situation is changing rapidly. However, I believe that it is a bit early to make assumptions on the veracity or not of alternative information in SM given that the mainstream media are driven by immediacy and may not appropriatedly contrapose their official sources with more alternative ones. Anyways, I concide in the fact that some information in SM could be actually misleading and it would need some sort of verification before circulating. Overall, I agree with your conclusion as it opens a good discussion points on not only for this pandemic, but to future social issues.

Kind regards

Alison McGuigan

Hi Alison,

Thank you for reading and commenting on my paper.

I very much look forward to future empirical research resulting from this current pandemic. The various responses by governments around the world have been different, such as in Taiwan, a nation who were better prepared because of the pain they suffered from the previous SARS epidemic – they saw this one coming and acted quickly, stocking up on medical and PPE supplies immediately and not allowing any of those resources to leave their country (ul Khaliq, 2020) and in acting early they were able to avoid (thus far) a total shutdown of their economy. Others though (such as the USA) chose a ‘head in the sand’ approach in the early months of COVID-19 and are now suffering the consequences, yet reopening of the economy seems to be given preference (still) over human lives. Certainly comparisons of the various approaches and subsequent outcomes will be invaluable to inform future governments during global pandemics.

Empirical studies on the effects of SM during this pandemic and its uses in relation to disease surveillance and also as a communication tool will be quite fascinating also.


Hi Leanne,

I like reading your conference paper as it is interesting and relevant to today’s Covid-19 pandemic.

Your paper has discussed well the important role of the health professionals who provided health advice and information during the epidemic, whistle blowers who revealed the on-the-ground real situations during the SARs epidemic and Covid-19 pandemic and the misinformation in social media that includes unsubstantiated claims and fake news.

I agree that social media is a vital communications tool in today’s digital age that keeps people connected and informed especially during an epidemic as it unites and helps people control the outbreak as you pointed out. On the misinformation, I also agree that “critical thinking and caution are important factors in effectively separating useful information from fake news and personal agenda on SM” as you stated in your paper.

In addition, it is also important that social media platforms incorporate social responsibility in their operations by responding to growing misinformation that affects the efficacy of their tools especially during an epidemic where people’s lives may be at risk. With Covid-19 pandemic, researchers recently found a sample of social media posts from January to March, 2020 and found growing amount of misinformation rated by fact-checkers as “false”. Although social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube responded and removed “false” posts or attached warnings, some are still up (Brennen et al., 2020). As you pointed out, “critical thinking and caution to control the spread of misinformation” along with social media platforms using automated tools, vigilance of fact-checkers and users doing the right thing would help mitigate misinformation especially during the epidemic.

Thank you.

Hi Kathryn,

Thanks for your comments.

Yes ‘vigilance of fact-checkers’ is becoming essential in Social Media, not just during pandemics, but across the many many uses of the platforms.

Given the massive number of users now though, it is a very difficult task for fact-checkers to act quickly enough to be effective in discouraging rumour and to separate fact from opinion. For that reason, critical thinking is a skill that needs to be taught, not only by Universities, but also from very early on in the primary and high school curriculum so that minds are trained to be inquisitive and cautious from a young age, irrespective of what any new media of the future may bring.


Hi Leanne and Kathryn,

I note in an article that Anne-Marie shared with me that Facebook has confirmed they will only remove content related to COVID-19 if it poses a threat to people’s health (Price, 2020). If the post is considered to be misinformation, Facebook may label it as such but will not take the post down.



Price, R. (2020, February 26). Facebook is banning ads that promise to cure the coronavirus. Business Insider.

Hi Leanne,

You have done an excellent job with your paper, especially since the topic is so relevant and ever-changing.
I think social media is so highly effective in the spread of information, especially since such information gets spread so widely in such a short amount of time. Sometimes so much so that lots of information is being spread at the same time. It can be hard to keep up. But it also makes it easier for incoorect information to be shared just as quickly. I believe it’s also hard because everyone hears or reads different things, especially when it’s consistently changing. So one person might post something that they have heard, read or personally believe, share it with their followers then their followers share it and it sort of becomes a cycle and it can get quite confusing. Its become very interesting to see how different social media deal with the spread of misinformation during the pandemic and in the future.

Great work! 🙂

Thanks for the comments Kaitlyn. As mentioned above, it’s good to finally see sites like Facebook starting to act on misinformation and it has taken something on a global scale to encourage them to do so. It will be a positive outcome, I believe, one of very few positive outcomes of this virus!

Stay well!

Hi Leanne,

A well researched topic you’ve chosen to discuss and is very relatable to what is currently happening. It’s an important topic to talk about with the situation we are all in at the moment. I really liked reading your paper and your examples were well thought about. An engaging topic to create more discussion through the conference. All of your points raised in the paper are relevant and informative great work. It’s so very true without social networks society would be lost without the informative being available.



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