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Gesser-Edelsburg, A. (2021). Using Narrative Evidence to Convey Health Information on Social Media: The Case of COVID-19

Bibliographic details:

Gesser-Edelsburg, A. (2021). Using Narrative Evidence to Convey Health Information on Social Media: The Case of COVID-19. Journal of Medical Internet Research23(3), e24948.


During disease outbreaks or pandemics, policy makers must convey information to the public for informative purposes (eg, morbidity or mortality rates). They must also motivate members of the public to cooperate with the guidelines, specifically by changing their usual behavior. Policy makers have traditionally adopted a didactic and formalistic stance by conveying dry, statistics-based health information to the public. They have not yet considered the alternative of providing health information in the form of narrative evidence, using stories that address both cognitive and emotional aspects. The aim of this viewpoint paper is to introduce policy makers to the advantages of using narrative evidence to provide health information during a disease outbreak or pandemic such as COVID-19. Throughout human history, authorities have tended to employ apocalyptic narratives during disease outbreaks or pandemics. This viewpoint paper proposes an alternative coping narrative that includes the following components: segmentation; barrier reduction; role models; empathy and support; strengthening self-efficacy, community efficacy, and coping tools; preventing stigmatization of at-risk populations; and communicating uncertainty. It also discusses five conditions for using narrative evidence to produce an effective communication campaign on social media: (1) identifying narratives that reveal the needs, personal experiences, and questions of different subgroups to tailor messaging to produce targeted behavioral change; (2) providing separate and distinct treatment of each information unit or theory that arises on social networks; (3) identifying positive deviants who found creative solutions for stress during the COVID-19 crisis not found by other members of the community; (4) creating different stories of coping; and (5) maintaining a dialogue with population subgroups (eg, skeptical and hesitant groups). The paper concludes by proposing criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of a narrative.