A randomized evaluation of a nationwide Facebook information campaign found that short messages from doctors and nurses had a significant impact on reducing vacation travel and lowering post-Covid-19 infection rates. Researchers found the campaign, which reached nearly 30 million Facebook users, was an effective and cost-effective way to slow the spread of Covid-19 and change behavior.
This study was designed by an interdisciplinary research team, based on a growing body of literature on the effectiveness of physicians as messengers of public health, to test how these messages would work on a large scale. The research team includes academics from MIT, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Online Care Group, Stanford University, Ludwig Maximilian University Munich, Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital , Yale University, Lynn Community Health Center, Johns Hopkins University, St. Anthony North family. Medicine, Paris School of Economics and McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas.
Based on public guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urging people not to travel for the 2020 vacation, the campaign featured short messages from doctors and nurses encouraging viewers to stay. home before Thanksgiving and Christmas. to prevent the spread of Covid-19. In 13 states, Facebook followers in randomly selected zip codes in 820 counties in the United States were assigned to receive 20-second posts as sponsored content in varying amounts. On average, each user included in this study received two to three videos on Thanksgiving and three to four videos on Christmas.
In counties where a greater proportion of zip codes received high coverage Facebook ads, the average distance traveled declined by almost a percentage point in the three days leading up to the holidays (a decrease was not detected on the day of each public holiday). In the two-week period starting five days after the vacation (the average incubation time for Covid-19), Covid-19 cases declined 3.5%. This effect was not affected by geographic or political demographics. The bipartisan nature of the campaign’s impact demonstrates the importance of public health campaigns that rely on trusted figures.
The success of this program provides a clear example of the impact social media can have on public health. Almost 70 percent of Americans are on Facebook, and around 36% say they receive their news primarily from the platform. This suggests that Facebook has the potential to be an effective and impactful public health tool for delivering accurate public health messages to a broad audience, the researchers say.
Esther Duflo, Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT, Co-Founder and Director of MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and Lead Author of the study, notes: “These results demonstrate that educating people about public health information can not only change behavior, it can also save lives. By building on both public trust in healthcare workers and the widespread use of social media, campaigns like these can make a significant contribution to the fight against Covid-19 and the future. health crises. “
This work has important implications for preventing the spread of future pandemics as well as larger applications amid growing concerns about Covid-19 variants and persistent resistance to vaccinations. Further research is underway to assess how similar messaging campaigns disseminated via social media may be able to encourage vaccination against Covid-19 in the United States.