Public sentiment and discourse about Zika virus on Instagram

Public Health. 2017 Sep:150:170-175. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2017.07.015. Epub 2017 Aug 12.


Objective: Social media have strongly influenced the awareness and perceptions of public health emergencies, and a considerable amount of social media content is now shared through images, rather than text alone. This content can impact preparedness and response due to the popularity and real-time nature of social media platforms. We sought to explore how the image-sharing platform Instagram is used for information dissemination and conversation during the current Zika outbreak.

Study design: This was a retrospective review of publicly posted images about Zika on Instagram.

Methods: Using the keyword '#zika' we identified 500 images posted on Instagram from May to August 2016. Images were coded by three reviewers and contextual information was collected for each image about sentiment, image type, content, audience, geography, reliability, and engagement.

Results: Of 500 images tagged with #zika, 342 (68%) contained content actually related to Zika. Of the 342 Zika-specific images, 299 were coded as 'health' and 193 were coded 'public interest'. Some images had multiple 'health' and 'public interest' codes. Health images tagged with #zika were primarily related to transmission (43%, 129/299) and prevention (48%, 145/299). Transmission-related posts were more often mosquito-human transmission (73%, 94/129) than human-human transmission (27%, 35/129). Mosquito bite prevention posts outnumbered safe sex prevention; (84%, 122/145) and (16%, 23/145) respectively. Images with a target audience were primarily aimed at women (95%, 36/38). Many posts (60%, 61/101) included misleading, incomplete, or unclear information about the virus. Additionally, many images expressed fear and negative sentiment, (79/156, 51%).

Conclusion: Instagram can be used to characterize public sentiment and highlight areas of focus for public health, such as correcting misleading or incomplete information or expanding messages to reach diverse audiences.

Keywords: Instagram; Public health emergency; Public sentiment; Social media; Zika.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / methods
  • Photography
  • Public Opinion*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Social Media / statistics & numerical data*
  • Zika Virus Infection / epidemiology
  • Zika Virus*