Surveillance, Community Needs Assessment, Pedagogy
What Public Health Practitioners Need to know about Twitter Discourse on Bioterrorism
(School of Public Health (UMD) Epidemiology and Biostatistics Master's Student)
Social media is becoming increasingly recognized as an important public health tool. “Infodemiology” has endless applications that provide insight into health related behavior and information exchange on a population level. In the field of Infodemiology, Twitter has been recognized as useful in disease surveillance, monitoring the quality of health information, as well as disaster management. To be successful in using Twitter for disaster management it is imperative to understand current public discourse on fears and beliefs in order to design optimal management strategies. The purpose of this study is to examine the opportunity to apply social media strategies to understand public discourse on bioterrorism as a mechanism to minimize fear and understand what people feel most threatened by. We performed a comprehensive search of publically available messages in Twitter and examined the language of bioterror in terms of reach and message concentration. Twitter analytic tool, Tweet Archivist was used to aggregate user mentions, hashtags, top contributors, tweet time line, and messages most re-tweeted. These standard analytic strategies allow assessment of level of fear and content of messages as a way to engage people, understand the nature of discourse, and identify key themes. Preliminary findings show the majority of tweets concerning bioterrorism came from individuals worldwide. While tweets varied, three major themes were identified: concern over Ebola, ISIS, and the government. Full results will be reported at the conference. Analysis of tweets provides insight into public discourse and allows most immediate access to current knowledge, fears, and attitudes. Twitter should become a common tool used by public health practitioners to improve practice and better prepare for action. The nature of tweets regarding bioterrorism demonstrates the need for public health education campaigns and widespread training of public health practitioners to disseminate accurate knowledge regarding bioterrorism threats.