Examining Social Media Crisis Communication during Early COVID-19 from Public Health and News Media for Quality, Content and Corresponding Public Sentiment
Rising COVID-19 cases in Canada in early 2021, coupled with pervasive mis- and disinformation, demonstrate the critical relationship between effective crisis communication, trust, and risk protective measure adherence by the public. Trust in crisis communication is affected by the communication’s characteristics including transparency, timeliness, empathy, and clarity, as well as the source and communication channels used. Crisis communication occurs in a rhetorical arena where various actors, including public health, news media, and the public, are co-producing and responding to messages. Rhetorical arenas must be monitored to assess the acceptance of messaging. The quality and content of Canadian public health and news media crisis communication on Facebook were evaluated to understand the use of key guiding principles of effective crisis communication, the focus of the communication, and subsequent public emotional response to included posts. Four hundred and thirty-eight posts and 26,774 anonymized comments were collected and analyzed. Overall, the guiding principles for effective crisis communication were inconsistently applied and combined. A limited combination of guiding principles, especially those that demonstrate trustworthiness, was likely driving the negative sentiment uncovered in the comments. Public health and news media should use the guiding principles consistently to increase positive sentiment and build trust among followers.