An editorial in The Lancet: The medium and the message of Ebola. Excerpt:
In the UK, tabloid reporting has often been poorly informed by science and unhelpful coverage can contribute to public confusion and misinformation. Some sources have shared accurate guidance aimed at those most in need, such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the BBC's WhatsApp Ebola service.
But, overall, the media has tended to encourage substantial misunderstanding about the risks of exposure and where the real threat and causes of Ebola lie.
Analysis of social media traffic also tells a story of unbalance. During October, there were 21 037 331 tweets about Ebola in the USA, compared with 13 480 about Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone combined. Yet around 5000 deaths and 14 000 cases in west Africa show that the epidemic continues to dominate at source in these countries, contrary to the media footprint of Ebola.
But there is also a positive story to tell about the power and potential of social media to inform and assist. The Lancet Twitter chat held last week is perhaps one small example of this encouraging trend.
Provided you are on the right side of the digital divide (not an automatically valid assumption in the case of Africa), there is no hierarchy on Twitter—anyone can join in, express an opinion, or ask a question. All voices are equal.
Infectious disease experts David Heymann and David Mabey joined us at our offices in London to participate in a live Twitter conversation. We approached #LancetEbola with twelve broad questions of our own, while monitoring incoming tweets. During an hour-long discussion, we had 308 818 impressions (the total number of times tweets were viewed) and, amid a serious and fast-paced conversation, new ideas emerged from our experts and our audience alike.