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Health Commun. 2018 Dec;33(12):1389-1400. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2017.1351278. Epub 2017 Aug 21.

Health-Related Disaster Communication and Social Media: Mixed-Method Systematic Review.

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a Department of Communication , Wayne State University.
b School of Social Sciences , Bangor University.
c World Health Organization.


This mixed-method evidence synthesis drew on Cochrane methods and principles to systematically review literature published between 2003 and 2016 on the best social media practices to promote health protection and dispel misinformation during disasters. Seventy-nine studies employing quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods on risk communication during disasters in all UN-languages were reviewed, finding that agencies need to contextualize the use of social media for particular populations and crises. Social media are tools that still have not become routine practices in many governmental agencies regarding public health in the countries studied. Social media, especially Twitter and Facebook (and equivalents in countries such as China), need to be incorporated into daily operations of governmental agencies and implementing partners to build familiarity with them before health-related crises happen. This was especially observed in U.S. agencies, local government, and first responders but also for city governments and school administrations in Europe. For those that do use social media during health-related risk communication, studies find that public relations officers, governmental agencies, and the general public have used social media successfully to spread truthful information and to verify information to dispel rumors during disasters. Few studies focused on the recovery and preparation phases and on countries in the Southern hemisphere, except for Australia. The vast majority of studies did not analyze the demographics of social media users beyond their geographic location, their status of being inside/outside the disaster zone; and their frequency and content of posting. Socioeconomic demographics were not collected and/or analyzed to drill deeper into the implications of using social media to reach vulnerable populations. Who exactly is reached via social media campaigns and who needs to be reached with other means has remained an understudied area.

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