When West Africa was hit by an Ebola outbreak in March 2014, it wasn’t the health officials, the Health Ministry, or mainstream media who reported it first to the rest of the world. The outbreak was first reported by internet users on popular social networks.
The health professionals are now claiming Twitter to be the most effective means of dissemination of information in case of a pathogenic outbreak. They have their reasons to believe so.
A study published in the American Journal of Infections Control revealed interesting and highly relevant fact about Ebola outbreak. Here is a list of ways how Twitter managed to outdo mainstream media in reporting Ebola.
Twitter was three days ahead of Health Ministry in reporting Ebola outbreak
The study showed that users had posted 101 tweets that reached nearly 1.2 million people two days before the official announcement on July 24, 2014 in Nigeria. Within two days, the number of tweets reached 1010 mark. It reached 50 million people, according to the report. On July 30, these tweets reached 120.5 million people who were discussing Ebola around the world.
Content in Ebola related tweets
The tweets that talked about Ebola included messages
1) #EbolaVirus 1st case discovered Lagos, pls spread the word.
2) Guys, #EbolaVirus in Lagos. Be informed. Be careful.
3) Let us all be aware of this killer virus and advocate its prevents…HANDWASHING. That’s one #Ebola.
#Ebola hashtag was a common term in these tweets. The analysis of timings, contents, and distributions of tweets further revealed that the main topics of discussion included risk factors, prevention education, disease trends & spread and location with prayers for African people.
How Twitter disclosed the outbreak before media and government?
The researchers and officials were surprised when they found out tweets of Ebola case in Nigeria, the place where the outbreak had actually begun. These tweets were posted three days before the official announcement. They aren’t sure why it happened. However, they suggest that availability of cheap smartphones has led to increased availability.
The study supports the assumption that Twitter is considered more suitable social media platform to share serious and relevant messages as compared to others. Also, the popularity of Twitter enables reliability and huge reach across the world.
What health professionals think about Twitter?
This study has compelled health professionals, oncerned government and medical institutes to explore the utility of Twitter in detection, prevention, and awareness regarding critical diseases. The study shows that Twitter has capability to reach maximum number of people with users located in remote areas of Nigeria.
More 50 million tweets are posted by Twitter users all around the world everyday, which clearly indicates that it has potential to disseminate information at lightning speed. Presently it has 645 million registered users and the community is still growing.
Also, researchers have emphasized on the fact that such popular mediums can be of great help in collecting crucial data and in outbreak surveillance. Mining of useful big data can be helpful in observing epidemic trends and taking appropriate measures in time.
The study, indeed, stunned media and government of Nigeria. Delay of three days in detection of an epidemic outbreak holds a great significance. It’s great news for health professionals as they can seek expert assistance in healthcare services using social media.