Online Program

Examining tools for online public health media analysis: An Ebola case study

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Hal Roberts, MS, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Brittany Seymour, DDS, MPH, Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidmiology, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Boston, MA
Sands Fish, MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
(1) Background

Public health communication management is changing rapidly with advancing online media modalities. Media Cloud, a joint project of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard and the Center for Civic Media at MIT, is an open source, open data platform that allows public health researchers to quantitatively and qualitatively answer complex questions about the health content of online media.


(2) Objective/purpose

The objective of this Ebola case study was to measure and compare, based on link and social media analytics, the language used by the most influential media communities to the language used by public health communities.

(3) Methods

We analyzed and mapped Media Cloud’s archive of 250 million online media stories for all stories including the word ‘Ebola’ from July to November 2014. A total of 109,499 stories in 17,088 media sources matched our inclusion criteria. We analyzed all sources for language clusters and the most influential media sources and stories according to in-links and social media engagement. 

(4) Results

The most influential sources across social media were mainstream media and general news with a strong focus on US politics; their language differed significantly from the language used in the science and health communities. The most linked to stories were explainer stories from the CDC and WHO. Media coverage spiked in July, when the first Americans became infected in Liberia, and again in September/October when Ebola was by far the most dominant topic in the U.S. mainstream media.

(5) Discussion/conclusions

By mapping the networks of language and influence that constitute a public controversy addressing a given health topic, Media Cloud can support public health communication strategists to better navigate these increasingly complex networks, resulting in more effective and accurate health communication.

Learning Areas:

Advocacy for health and health education
Assessment of individual and community needs for health education
Communication and informatics
Other professions or practice related to public health
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Assess the role that online media communities and related advocacy networks play in creating, spreading, and reinforcing health messages through their stories; explain how the general public contributes to this "networked knowledge" through social media Differentiate between broadcast diffusion and social diffusion of health messages through online media and assess the relationship between the two Describe the step-by-step process for using media analysis tools and describe how these tools can enhance public health communication management Design innovative social health communication research strategies that can improve and enhance public health communication online

Keyword(s): Communication Technology, Media

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. I have been the lead researcher for Berkman Center reports on Internet surveillance, filtering circumvention, and distributed denial of service attacks against independent media. I am the technical lead on the Media Cloud project, a text aggregation and analysis tool for studying online media created at the Berkman Center.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.