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A glimpse to Ebola on social media

on Sun, 10/12/2014 - 20:38

Concern and fear about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa quickly spread around the world. Social media are a fertile ground for similar feelings, as well as for the circulation of information, be they correct, distorted or totally wrong. But what are the main actors and topics related to Ebola on social media? In order to try to give a first answer to this question, some members of the TELL ME projects carried out an analysis focused on Twitter. Using “ebola” as the main query and English as language, the authors of the analysis collected 632,712 tweets and 17,023 hashtags between September 5th and 11th 2014.

According to an algorithm that counted the number of followers, posts and retweets, TELL ME analysis identified the five top influencer on Ebola topics (see table 1). It is interesting to note that four of them are organizations, while the only single person is Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also appears in the list. Curiously, CDCis not amongst the top five, surpassed by the WHO, the breaking news service from BBCand Médecins Sans Frontières.

@WHO1.56 Mln42
@BBCBreaking11.4 Mln4
@gatesfoundation1.28 Mln14

Table 1 – Top five influencer.

The most used hashtags – not counting #ebola – were then investigated, thus revealing that the most used was #usaheadlines, with more than 30,000 citations, the second being #liberia with a bit more than 7,000. This clearly reflect the impact of fear in the US regarding the potential diffusion of the virus within American borders.

The relevance of the #liberia hashtag is related with the regional interest shown by the count of searched geographical keywords. Table 2 shows a list of locations with their relevance expressed as a percentage compared to the most searched one, which is indeed Liberia. This is not a surprise, since Liberia is the country that most suffered from the Ebola outbreak: of the 7,470 cases reported so farin Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, 3,834 (51.3 percent) occurred in Liberia, with a death rate of almost 54 percent.

Sierra Leone55

Table 2 – Trend for regional keywords searches.