Background: The recent Zika outbreak witnessed the disease evolving from a regional health concern to a global epidemic. During this process, different communities across the globe became involved in Twitter, discussing the disease and key issues associated with it. This paper presents a study of this discussion in Twitter, at the nexus of location, actors, and concepts. Objective: Our objective in this study was to demonstrate the significance of 3 types of events: location related, actor related, and concept related, for understanding how a public health emergency of international concern plays out in social media, and Twitter in particular. Accordingly, the study contributes to research efforts toward gaining insights on the mechanisms that drive participation, contributions, and interaction in this social media platform during a disease outbreak. Methods: We collected 6,249,626 tweets referring to the Zika outbreak over a period of 12 weeks early in the outbreak (December 2015 through March 2016). We analyzed this data corpus in terms of its geographical footprint, the actors participating in the discourse, and emerging concepts associated with the issue. Data were visualized and evaluated with spatiotemporal and network analysis tools to capture the evolution of interest on the topic and to reveal connections between locations, actors, and concepts in the form of interaction networks. Results: The spatiotemporal analysis of Twitter contributions reflects the spread of interest in Zika from its original hotspot in South America to North America and then across the globe. The Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization had a prominent presence in social media discussions. Tweets about pregnancy and abortion increased as more information about this emerging infectious disease was presented to the public and public figures became involved in this. Conclusions: The results of this study show the utility of analyzing temporal variations in the analytic triad of locations, actors, and concepts. This contributes to advancing our understanding of social media discourse during a public health emergency of international concern.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was funded through a Multidisciplinary Research Award by the Office of the Provost of George Mason University. Publication of this article was funded by the George Mason University Libraries Open Access Publishing Fund.
© Anthony Stefanidis, Emily Vraga, Georgios Lamprianidis, Jacek Radzikowski, Paul L Delamater, Kathryn H Jacobsen, Dieter Pfoser, Arie Croitoru, Andrew Crooks. Originally published in JMIR Public Health and Surveillance (http://publichealth.jmir.org), 20.04.2017. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
- Geographic information systems
- Social media
- Twitter messaging
- Zika virus