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A few days ago a TrendWatch global monthly e-mailer landed in Neil Crump’s inbox, profiling ‘Big Brand Redemption’. An interesting read, especially when you consider the implications for one of the industries GLOBALHealthPR supports: pharma. The catchy email subject got Neil thinking, “How does this apply to the industry we serve?”
In March, a false audio message about the current Dengue fever outbreak in Argentina went viral through WhatsApp, which has nearly 18 million users in in the country (57% of adults with internet access). This caused panic among the population and resulting in widespread accusations of
the government suppressing information about a potential epidemic.
This is not the only such case. At the beginning of the year in Colombia, false news was spread that a group of U.S. specialists would operate on patients with cleft lip for free at a Military Hospital in Bogotá.
Although social media may be useful for disseminating health information, there are obvious drawbacks in terms of quality control and fact checking on a platform where anyone can post anything and claim it as the truth.
In the Argentinian case, a message recorded by a woman who introduced herself as a doctor working at José María Penna Hospital was circulated through WhatsApp. In the message, the woman warned her contacts about a Dengue fever epidemic that is being hidden by the Health System Authorities: “Hi girls, this is a medical notice. I know it´s boring to put on mosquito repellent all the time. The orange can has to be used every two hours and the green can every four hours. The number of dengue fever cases is increasing and the situation is not being made public. At my hospital – Penna Hospital – there are more than 400 diagnosed cases, both in adults and children. Every day, between 7 and 8 new cases are diagnosed and we are expecting a significant epidemic that might occur in March or April…”
The audio circulated very quickly: in just six hours it became a major issue in the media and it forced the health authorities to take action on the matter. As a first step, Penna hospital’s Director, Gustavo San Martin, told the media that there were “nine patients hospitalized, but none in critical condition.” After this clarification the Buenos Aires Minister of Health, Ana Maria Bou Pérez, denied the veracity of the audio recording and indicated that only 216 cases of Dengue were confirmed in the region.
As the message continued spreading and concerns about the concealment of information by health authorities were in the air, Jorge San Juan, the National Director of Epidemiology, released official statistics regarding the number of cases across the country. Minister of Health Dr. Jorge Lemus then delivered a final, authoritative statement on the issue. The panic generated by this viral WhatsApp message lasted only one day, but demanded the attention of the highest authorities in the national health system.
What motivated people nationwide to share this message of panic? The message had typical characteristics of viral content:
It is interesting to reflect on what people choose to believe. But why do we believe in conspiracies? There are a lot of studies about the high adhesion of conspiracy theories that are a reflection of collective fears. According to professors Eric Oliver of the University of Chicago and Tom Wood of Ohio State University in Columbus, “these kind of theories prove that the brain has not evolved enough to process information on industrial economies, medicine or terrorism. But it did evolve for survival in nature.”
Could it be that the tendency to have fantastic conspiratorial beliefs can be linked to a void of authority and authentic communication? That is, given the lack of confidence in their institutions or political leaders, people seek explanations and guidance from unusual or anonymous sources. For example, a Whatsapp audio note.
What’s really happening with Dengue in Argentina:
The quadrivalent vaccine that was recently launched to prevent Dengue fever has not yet been approved. For this reason all communications campaigns in the disease area are focused on how to avoid the proliferation of Aedes aegypty -the mosquito that transmits Dengue- through the elimination of breeding sites. One of the most striking aspects of the audio was that it did not refer to this key step in preventing the spread of the disease. But it did mention the need to use repellents more often
How do you think institutions can use social media as a positive tool for combatting public health issues such as Dengue? Is there a way potential for abuse and viral misinformation on social media without inhibiting the good it can do? Let us know in the comments.
Over the past decade, social media has been one of the biggest revolutions in the field of public relations, for companies and communications professionals alike. But, as with all revolutions, questions arise as to who has been left behind. For millennials, the predominant logic might be that anyone outside of their 20’s doesn’t “get it”. How true is this statement? We asked some of our GLOBALHealthPR partners that same question.
“Historically (well, for the past 11 years if we consider Facebook the trailblazer) social media has been a ‘young person’s game.’
Terms like ‘ageism’ are regularly tossed around, but is there a point at which one becomes ‘too old’ to correctly utilise social media? Further, is it fair to assume that the millennial generation should be favored over their predecessors when it comes to social media management in public relations programming?
Australian advertising creative Simon Veskner explored the stance of social media critics in a recent article published in Mumbrella. “Social media is the first communications discipline in history for which ageism is justified. Do you see a lot of over 40’s on Snapchat? You don’t,” cited Veskner.
Age-appropriate management of corporate social media is indeed, a hotly contested topic.
In a controversial piece published in NextGen Journal, University of Iowa student, Cathryn Sloane, argued anyone working as a social media manager should be aged 25 or younger, for they “have grown up with social media integrated into their everyday lives and thus have learned to use social media socially before professionally.”
Is there a genuinely compelling argument that the “Teenies” and Gen Y who have grown up with social media defining their day-to-day lives, can actually better understand the channels than those who are older?
Whatever side of the ‘age fence’ you sit on, it is clear that age affects ones perception’s on the importance of social media’s role in our lives and in our jobs.”
-Mark Henderson, VIVA! Communications
“Social networks can be used and managed properly by people of all ages. However, Gen Y, unlike the rest of the digital-native generation, creates its own vision of the world through social media. It is where they spread their ideas; they voice their opinions, and even build their real-world relationships based on their online social presence.”
– Luciana Acuña Elías, Paradigma PEL Comunicación
For communications professionals, those who manage clients’ social network presence, especially with more mature industry professionals, must also inject this “insider” mindset into their programs.
In Canada, energiPR CEO Carol Levine, a seasoned healthcare public relations executive, had another perspective.
“Different generations bring different strengths to any situation or technology. Social media is no different. Where younger people are more accustomed to have a digital “through the screen” conversation, older social media users also realise that there is a value to remembering that behind each screen is a person, and the merit and qualities of face-to-face interaction. In other words, what is said on social media has a power and resonance beyond the screen, words don’t always transmit the correct emotion, and older generations have a different emotional intelligence that perhaps harnesses that better, or at least differently. Older users may also be more mindful of the fact that what is online lives forever … so be careful what you post.
Social media is all about immediacy and speed, reacting literally ‘in the moment.’ Younger users are more adept at doing this, given the speed with which technology changes, and their eagerness to adopt it and adapt to it. When your first “toy” was a smart phone, rather than a Fisher Price vacuum cleaner, you interact differently with the world from your earliest days.
However, there is more to management than understanding the nuts and bolts of a technology. Of course, some older people are lousy managers, and the same is true of younger managers. And not all younger people “get” technology, either. Perhaps we would all be better served if we didn’t jump to a ‘one size fits all’ conclusion regarding technology and age.”
-Carol Levine, energiPR
What do you think?