Dr Tauel Harper is a lecturer from The University of Western Australia’s School of Social Sciences in the Discipline of Media and Communication. He is an expert on public communication and his research is currently focusing on how people are communicating about the COVID vaccine on social media feeds across the world and what is being discussed.
UWA is playing a key role in scanning the billions of mentions of the COVID vaccine rollout on social media and keeping the Federal and State Governments aware of circulating rumours, concerns about possible adverse effects and changes in community sentiment.
This crucial feedback is enabling health authorities to have a much broader overview of vaccine outcomes and react in real time to provide the answers needed to address vaccine hesitancy.
“The social media response to the COVID vaccine has been overwhelming positive and that’s fantastic,” Dr Harper said.
“We do a weekly data scrape and we are pulling data from Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, from discussion boards, Google news, Google trends and the Australian media.
“We look for mentions of the COVID vaccine and try to analyse sentiment around the vaccine and look for any trending concerns or reports of adverse effects. We relate these back to the Government and check if this is anything to be concerned about.”
To date, the main adverse effect reported on social media among billions of posts was ‘feeling a little bit off’ after you had had the COVID vaccine, he said.
“The great thing about this transparency is that we are able to see the incredibly positive effect of the vaccine, particularly overseas, where so many vaccines have been rolled out,” Dr Harper said. “ People are just really happy – they are able to travel, see family members and feel safe."
How can social media help address COVID vaccine hesitancy?
Social media allows transparency and social conversations around public health. More than at any other time in human history, we have the capacity to share information about our vaccine experiences. This makes it much easier for us, as researchers, to track any effects of the vaccine – both positive and negative – and means we have a really broad view of the impact of the vaccine. The posting of vaccine experiences online is also a way of normalising vaccination.
How can social media hinder efforts to deal with vaccine hesitancy?
Worldwide there has been a disintegration of authority structures. People do not trust the government and we have lost newspapers and TV stations as a source of authority, so social media has become really important but at the same time it can’t always be trusted. The biggest concern is that anyone can publish anything on social media and stylistically there is not necessarily any difference between somebody who does not know what they are talking about and somebody who does. So it is very hard for people to distinguish between good information and bad information. On the internet, there are also those making money by preying on people’s fears about the vaccine, using conspiracy theories and tapping into feelings of repression.
What can Western Australians do on social media to aid the COVID-19 vaccine rollout?
Make sure you communicate effectively with your friends on social media – check your facts, check your sources and try to make a positive contribution. Share your vaccine experience online (and those of your parents and grandparents) and let other Western Australians know how safe the vaccine is. This is a public health challenge and everyone in WA can play their part. Sharing your vaccination story is a way of normalising vaccination, of being transparent about your experience and encouraging your friends to do the same. On Twitter you can tweet about your vaccination, on Instagram post a photo of your vaccination, on Facebook a photo of the vaccine or a “V” sign after your vaccination, on TikTok post videos of the injection process.