A Mixed Methods Inquiry into the Role of Tom Hanks' COVID-19 Social Media Disclosure in Shaping Willingness to Engage in Prevention Behaviors

Health Commun. 2022 Jun;37(7):824-832. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2020.1871169. Epub 2021 Jan 14.


Given the vast amounts of COVID-19-related messages flooding mediated and interpersonal communication channels during the global pandemic, celebrity COVID-19 disclosures offer rare opportunities to cut through message fatigue and apathy and garner the attention of wide swaths of the public. We conducted a convergent mixed method analysis of audience responses to actor Tom Hanks' March 11, 2020 disclosure of his COVID-19 diagnosis via social media. We collected our data within 24 hours of his announcement, allowing us to quickly capture emotional and cognitive responses to the announcement and to assess both demographic and psychosocial differences in types of people who heard the news in this time frame and those who had not. In our study, 587 participants had heard the news of Hanks' disclosure while 95 had not. Participants who had heard responded to an open-ended prompt asking if the disclosure affected them at all. Those who had not heard were funneled into a field intervention to test how random assignment to seeing Hanks' disclosure post or not would affect audiences' COVID-19-related emotions, cognitions, and willingness to enact prevention behaviors. The results of this mixed methods study revealed differences in responses to Hanks' disclosure based on health information source trust and involvement with Hanks as well as effects of the intervention on efficacy for dealing with COVID-19. We discuss implications for health communication theory and crafting messages that can effectively build off the attentional inertia generated by celebrity illness disclosures to encourage prevention efforts.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 Testing
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / prevention & control
  • Disclosure
  • Health Communication*
  • Humans
  • Social Media*