Social media

This editorial introduces the new release of ASSET paper series.

Social media, mobile technology and social networks constitute an extremely rich and dynamic information ecosystem. With a world population of more than seven billion people, almost half of them have an internet connection, while the active social media users are about 2.8 billion. Huge numbers, which clearly shows how deep these instruments are rooted into our society. It is not a surprise, then, that social media are also increasingly present in disaster and crisis response efforts. Their growing presence in these scenarios represent an issue, but also an opportunity.

As reported in the ASSET Strategic plan, the three Summer Schools on Science in Society related issues in Pandemics (2015, 2016, 2017) pose the main challenge of the collaborative project overall that is dealing with the intersectoral approach required by the management of Public Health Emergencies of International Concern (PHEIC), like epidemics and pandemics.

During the period between October and December 2016, we used our algorithm to find out the most relevant Twitter influencers about vaccines. We performed a multilevel study to categorize the accounts and to identify the most relevant hashtags.

We analysed 869 accounts and categorized 373 of them:

The internet deals a lot with flu, but mostly talks about care and little about prevention. This is the result of a study made by Voices from the Blogs, a spin-off of the University of Milan, on the web-sentiment on influenza and vaccination in Italy.

Until the end, it seemed it could sort out to be a happy-ending story, a demonstration of how new social networks, renown for spreading misinformation, can also correct it, when used properly. But the unfortunately predictable finale showed the opposite: counteracting false ideas about vaccines is not that easy. It will take time, a big deal of patience, communication skills and a good, coordinated strategy as well.

How many ways are there to tell a story and who will do it? In these months we tried to answer those questions by running an analysis of the most relevant tweets and accounts about some key words, chosen by the editorial board, focused on Zika virus and vaccines. We then developed an application to identify the most influential Twitter users on specific topics, according to a list of hashtag we have provided.

Institutions, public agencies and authorities can tackle different kinds of crisis by using social media. In the last few months, this has been done successfully in very diverse cases, both defending the reputation of a big oil company from a journalistic inquiry, and managing the response to a terror attack within a city. Even if the type and range of crisis is hugely different, the efficacy of a prompt and wise use of social network gives clues that could be useful when dealing with infectious threats as well.


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MMLAP and other EU Projects

Health system analysis to support capacity development in response to the threat of pandemic influenza in Asia
Making society an active participant in water adaptation to global change
Public Participation in Developing a Common Framework for Assessment and Management of Sustainable Innovation
Effective communication in outbreak management: development of an evidence-based tool for Europe
Developing the framework for an epidemic forecast infrastructure
European monitoring of excess mortality for public health action
Modelling the spread of pandemic influenza and strategies for its containment and mitigation
Cost-effectiveness assessment of european influenza human pandemic alert and response strategies
Bridging the gap between science, stakeholders and policy makers
Promotion of immunization for health professionals in Europe
Towards inclusive research programming for sustainable food innovations
Medical ecosystem – personalized event-based surveillance
Studying the many and varied economic, social, legal and ethical aspects of the recent developments on the Internet, and their consequences for the individual and society at large
Knowledge-based policy-making on issues involving science, technology and innovation, mainly based upon the practices in Parliamentary Technology Assessment
Assessment of the current pandemic preparedness and response tools, systems and practice at national, EU and global level in priority areas
Analysis of innovative public engagement tools and instruments for dynamic governance in the field of Science in Society
Public Engagement with Research And Research Engagement with Society
Computing Veracity – the Fourth Challenge of Big Data
Providing infrastructure, co-ordination and integration of existing clinical research networks on epidemics and pandemics
Creating mechanisms for effectively tackling the scientific and technology related challenges faced by society
Improving respect of ethics principles and laws in research and innovation, in line with the evolution of technologies and societal concerns
Creating a structured dialogue and mutual learning with citizens and urban actors by setting up National Networks in 10 countries across Europe
Identifying how children can be change agents in the Science and Society relationship
Establishing an open dialogue between stakeholders concerning synthetic biology’s potential benefits and risks
Transparent communication in Epidemics: Learning Lessons from experience, delivering effective Messages, providing Evidence