Pamela A. Zeiser By: Pamela A. Zeiser
Associate Professor of Political Science
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31 May 2020 : Observations of Pandemic Persuasion via Social Media 2/3

        Social media is currently used to communicate pandemic education, as I noted in 17 May entry. It is also being used to persuade individuals to alter their behavior regarding COVID-19. Some of the posts mentioned on 17 May serve both purposes. The mechanics of proper hand washing or announcements of government aid programs simply raise awareness. A post like the UK PM/government’s 3 May tweet “Squeeze the Soap, Stop the Spread” also suggests preferred behavior.

            Goals previously or currently include convincing people to stay home (where not legally enforced), wash their hands, physically distance, and wear masks. In describing efforts via social media, I identify at least three categories of persuasion:

  • Promise of reward – staying healthy/safe:
    • Office of the Governor of California’s 9 May tweet “Disinfect frequently touched surfaces” depicting a cell phone, doorknob, light switches, fridge handles, keys, and sink handles.
    • UN 23 May Tweet “Just Stay √Safe àInside +Positive”
  • Stirring patriotism and/or responsibility to one’s community:
    • UK PM/NHS 25 April tweet with 10 second video “Don’t trade the life of your _____ for a day in the sun” and the words of family/friends scrolling up to fill in the blank: nephew, nan, rabbi, teammate, sister, brother, etc.
    • California’s state government 10 May tweeted 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.”
  • Lifting spirits/reducing panic
    • UK PM 25 April tweet “Great work, Everyone. We’ve come so far, let’s keep going” superimposed over the British flag and 2 May tweet “The power is in your hands” superimposed over a drawing of two hands producing suds
    • UN 14 May tweeted message “Connect with your loved ones. We are in this together, and will get through this together” accompanied by a drawing of two women on the phone, connected by a phone line making a heart, with the words “Physical Social Distancing.”
    • Posts introducing appropriate levity, such as the “alligator distancing” post from Leon County, FL mentioned previously.

Public health campaigns are thus using social media to education and persuade, with the goal of changing behavior. Exactly how successful these attempts to have been remains undetermined at this time. And, as will be discussed in a later diary entry, the immediate responses to these posts were a mixture of positive and negative. Nonetheless, they represent public health messaging via social media that are there for us to study.

Links provided where possible; hover over the name of entity posting.


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