Can the evolution of public health discourse networks be steered? The case of the 2020 coronavirus

Minsi Li, Le Anh Nguyen Long, Rene Torenvlied, Ariana Need


Social media has become a crucial instrument for crisis management. It is a medium through which crisis can be managed, but it also can amplify it. In the context of crisis, public administrators may try to shape discourses on social media through crisis communication. However, the outcome of their engagement is as yet poorly understood. To address this gap, we examine if and how semantic networks were shaped by the Chinese government’s crisis communication during the 2020 coronavirus outbreak. We elicit semantic networks from 1,300 posts about the coronavirus that were posted on the social media platform Weibo over a three-week period. Our preliminary findings suggest that government crisis communication strategies are more effective when public attention is low. When it is high, the general public shapes the discourse on crisis. Not only does this investigation shed light on the drivers of change in semantic networks, it also breaks ground on a poorly understood but increasingly relevant phenomenon: the use of social media for public sector crisis communication.

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