Pamela A. Zeiser By: Pamela A. Zeiser
Associate Professor of Political Science
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17 May 2020 : Observations of Pandemic Education via Social Media 1/3

                What with trolls, bots, and presidential tweets, it is easy to overlook the positive – as opposed to obviously negative -- ways social media is being used during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social media itself is a neutral tool, neither good nor bad but for the uses to which it is put. The content shared on social media can be helpful or damaging, both intentionally and unintentionally. Yet Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, among others, offer an expansive tool that allows users to reach large audiences – and for COVID-19 the public health audience is of necessity global. Any public health campaign can have numerous goals, with education and changing behavior being common objectives. Communicating public health interventions is vital and social media is one tool for doing so. This entry will describe educational efforts currently visible on social media as part of COVID-19 public health campaigns.

                As COVID-19 spread across the globe and governments began to respond (however late or early), an immediate public health intervention was education – to teach individuals how to protect themselves and their communities. In recent months, I have seen the following examples on platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. They are usually images combined with words through .jpgs, but also .gifs and videos, offering education about handwashing, social distancing, and government aid programs.

  • The UK government’s May 13 tweet picturing two hands, soap, and sink with the caption “Keep Washing Your Hands to Kill the Virus.” A second UK government tweet (May 3) was a drawing of a soap bottle with the words “Squeeze the Soap, Stop the Spread” written inside. (via @10DowningStreet)
  • Leon County, Florida’s April 2 Facebook post of an image of two individuals standing with a large alligator in between them, along with the caption “Physical Distancing: Keep One Alligator” (apart is implied).
  • California’s state government also tweeted the importance of maintaining distance with an image of three people in a park, with dashed lines indicating distance and the words “Stay 6 Feet Apart: Protect yourself, your community, and California.” (May 10 via @CAgovernor)
  • The UN tweeted on May 9 an image highlighting the difficulties faced by the disabled: “People with disability are at a greater risk of contracting coronavirus because of” followed by an images and words depicting the challenges of access to hygiene facilities, the need to touch things, the difficulty of social distancing when in a wheelchair pushed by another, and difficult accessing information. (via @UN)
  • The City of Jacksonville, Florida’s (cityofjax) May 2 Instagram image of several homes along with “COVID-19 Mortgage, Rent, and Utility Relief Program” and links to their website to educate citizens about the city’s financial aid to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
  • YouTube has literally hundreds of videos on both how to make face masks and how to wash hands, including ones posted by US CDC and Public Health England.

These are just a few examples of public health campaign images, words, and videos available through social media, designed to effectively inform and educate people about the pandemic. They use direct statements, visuals, and memorable slogans like “Stay Home/Save Lives” or “Stay Home/Stay Healthy” to do so.

The social media posts noted above are educational, but not solely that. The UK government’s slogan “Squeeze the Soap, Stop the Spread” also hints at responsibility to one's community. California’s social distancing post clearly states the same. And, Leon County, Florida’s Facebook image of “alligator distancing” adds a little levity (one assumes) to a difficult situation. In a later entry I’ll describe uses of social media for public health efforts to change behavior, particularly through different types of persuasion.

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