Milken Institute School of Public Health Poster Presentations (Marvin Center & Video)

Title

“Dey Sey teachers are pay agents to contaminate children with Ebola”: Rumor Spread and Control During the Ebola crisis in Liberia

Poster Number

95

Document Type

Poster

Status

Graduate Student - Masters

Abstract Category

Prevention and Community Health

Keywords

Ebola, Liberia, rumor, rumor control

Publication Date

4-2017

Abstract

The Liberian Ebola epidemic had a devastating impact on one of the world’s poorest countries, with over 4,800 dead due to the disease and more than 10,500 infected. The severity of the epidemic, coupled with widespread misunderstanding about Ebola by Liberian citizens, led to the exponential growth of rumors. Spread of rumors during health crises typically begins at the interpersonal level through informal channels due to the large amount of uncertainty about the facts. The media can then pick up these rumors and circulate them further, leading to a larger reach. This can hinder preventative health messages and can also lead to widespread panic and extreme public reactions. Rumor control during outbreaks is imperative to reducing the public’s fears about a disease. In Liberia, a rumor tracker system was developed during the epidemic to detect and control rumors as quickly as possible through SMS text messaging. The focus of this study was twofold, first to assess the number of rumors that were circulated by distinct channels over time and second to assess rumor control communicated by these channels over time. The primary research method used in this study was a quantitative content analysis of print and audio communications collected from Liberian newspapers, SMS messages from the “Dey Sey” tracker, and radio programs from January 2014 to March 2015. The final dataset included 745 newspaper articles, 135 SMS messages, 182 radio programs to be evaluated using an a priori codebook. A six person coding team with an intercoder reliability score of 0.85 and above analyzed the data. There were 142 total rumors sent to the rumor tracker by SMS, with the most common rumor being about “new Ebola cases”. The source for the majority of SMS rumors was a community member (92%). The total number of rumors circulated was higher in newspaper than in radio, but a greater percentage of mentioned rumors were stated to be myths through radio. The most common rumor spread and debunked through both radio and newspaper was “Ebola was not real”. The findings of this study provide an important start into how rumors and rumor control can affect an epidemic, showing how rumors are indeed first spread interpersonally and then picked up by the media. With careful training and coordination between public health officials and local media, health crises and public fear can be curbed by controlling rumors.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Open Access

1

Comments

To be presented at GW Annual Research Days 2017.

This document is currently not available here.

Share

COinS
 

“Dey Sey teachers are pay agents to contaminate children with Ebola”: Rumor Spread and Control During the Ebola crisis in Liberia

The Liberian Ebola epidemic had a devastating impact on one of the world’s poorest countries, with over 4,800 dead due to the disease and more than 10,500 infected. The severity of the epidemic, coupled with widespread misunderstanding about Ebola by Liberian citizens, led to the exponential growth of rumors. Spread of rumors during health crises typically begins at the interpersonal level through informal channels due to the large amount of uncertainty about the facts. The media can then pick up these rumors and circulate them further, leading to a larger reach. This can hinder preventative health messages and can also lead to widespread panic and extreme public reactions. Rumor control during outbreaks is imperative to reducing the public’s fears about a disease. In Liberia, a rumor tracker system was developed during the epidemic to detect and control rumors as quickly as possible through SMS text messaging. The focus of this study was twofold, first to assess the number of rumors that were circulated by distinct channels over time and second to assess rumor control communicated by these channels over time. The primary research method used in this study was a quantitative content analysis of print and audio communications collected from Liberian newspapers, SMS messages from the “Dey Sey” tracker, and radio programs from January 2014 to March 2015. The final dataset included 745 newspaper articles, 135 SMS messages, 182 radio programs to be evaluated using an a priori codebook. A six person coding team with an intercoder reliability score of 0.85 and above analyzed the data. There were 142 total rumors sent to the rumor tracker by SMS, with the most common rumor being about “new Ebola cases”. The source for the majority of SMS rumors was a community member (92%). The total number of rumors circulated was higher in newspaper than in radio, but a greater percentage of mentioned rumors were stated to be myths through radio. The most common rumor spread and debunked through both radio and newspaper was “Ebola was not real”. The findings of this study provide an important start into how rumors and rumor control can affect an epidemic, showing how rumors are indeed first spread interpersonally and then picked up by the media. With careful training and coordination between public health officials and local media, health crises and public fear can be curbed by controlling rumors.