We collected Tweets about Zika during the summer of 2016 and have conducted the first study. We conducted content analysis and network analyses to understand topical contents and major players in Twitter conversation about Zika during the Zika outbreak in US. The retweet analysis on the biggest four network communities have revealed the seven topical contents: Spread of Zika, criticism towards slow and lacking responses from government, symptoms of Zika, scientific news about Zika, bee killing incidents in South Carolina, government outreach efforts, and others. In addition, we found three types of major players in Zika tweets: the Senator Rubio community, authoritative actors, and gatekeepers.
The major take away of this study is that experts and actors affiliated with institutions with proper credentials are more influential in functioning as gatekeepers of information or have more power to spread information fast in Zika communication network. In addition, good portion of topical contents were about scientific studies on Zika. We have discussed that diffusion of false information has been one of the major concerns in adopting Twitter for emergency communication. Our finding is promising since it is in line with Mendoza et al. (2010)’s finding that Twitterers tend to question false rumors more often than confirmed truth in emergency situations. Our findings suggest that Twitterers exert their effort to diffuse more truthful and scientific information by retweeting scientific news and information distributed by experts of infectious disease. In fact, recent PEW study found that Twitter was the most popular platform that circulated scientific journal articles compared to any other online platforms. For instance, Twitter mentioned scientific studies about four times and 21 times more frequently compared to online news media and public Facebook pages respectively (Hitlin, 2016).
The R scripts to parse the Twitter stream JSON files and construct the retweet network are available at http://information-analytics.cas.usf.edu/zikastudy/contents.html
Impact of multi-media use in Twitter communication in state emergency situations.