How did Ebola information spread on twitter: broadcasting or viral spreading?
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Information and emotions towards public health issues could spread widely through online social networks. Although aggregate metrics on the volume of information diffusion are available, we know little about how information spreads on online social networks. Health information could be transmitted from one to many (i.e. broadcasting) or from a chain of individual to individual (i.e. viral spreading). The aim of this study is to examine the spreading pattern of Ebola information on Twitter and identify influential users regarding Ebola messages.

Our data was purchased from GNIP. We obtained all Ebola-related tweets posted globally from March 23, 2014 to May 31, 2015. We reconstructed Ebola-related retweeting paths based on Twitter content and the follower-followee relationships. Social network analysis was performed to investigate retweeting patterns. In addition to describing the diffusion structures, we classify users in the network into four categories (i.e., influential user, hidden influential user, disseminator, common user) based on following and retweeting patterns.

On average, 91% of the retweets were directly retweeted from the initial message. Moreover, 47.5% of the retweeting paths of the original tweets had a depth of 1 (i.e., from the seed user to its immediate followers). These observations suggested that the broadcasting was more pervasive than viral spreading. We found that influential users and hidden influential users triggered more retweets than disseminators and common users. Disseminators and common users relied more on the viral model for spreading information beyond their immediate followers via influential and hidden influential users.

Broadcasting was the dominant mechanism of information diffusion of a major health event on Twitter. It suggests that public health communicators can work beneficially with influential and hidden influential users to get the message across, because influential and hidden influential users can reach more people that are not following the public health Twitter accounts. Although both influential users and hidden influential users can trigger many retweets, recognizing and using the hidden influential users as the source of information could potentially be a cost-effective communication strategy for public health promotion. However, challenges remain due to uncertain credibility of these hidden influential users.
All Author(s) ListLiang H, Fung ICH, Tse ZTH, Yin JJ, Chan CH, Pechta LE, Smith BJ, Marquez-Lameda RD, Meltzer MI, Lubell KM, Fu KW
Journal nameBMC Public Health
Volume Number19
Article number438
LanguagesEnglish-United Kingdom
KeywordsEbola, Social media, Network analysis, Broadcast model, Viral diffusion model
Web of Science Subject CategoriesPublic, Environmental & Occupational Health;Public, Environmental & Occupational Health

Last updated on 2019-12-09 at 01:26