Local Chatter or International Buzz? Language Differences on Posts About Zika Research on Twitter and Facebook
26 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2017
Date Written: September 19, 2017
Background: When the Zika outbreak became a global health emergency in early 2016, the scientific community responded with an increased output of Zika-related research. This upsurge in research was accompanied by editorials, news, and reports, many of which made their way into journals—the scientific community’s formal channel of communication. However, the extent to which all these documents circulated among the populations most affected by Zika remains largely unknown.
Methodology/Principal Findings: We therefore looked at the languages used when those Zika-related articles were shared on Facebook and Twitter. Using a language detection algorithm, it was possible to determine that the conversations on both platforms is largely dominated by English: up to 90% on Twitter and 76% on Facebook. These numbers varied depending on who authored the article. Posts about papers where none of the authors are from English-speaking countries are less likely to be in English than those where some or all of the authors are from English-speaking countries. The effect is most pronounced on Facebook, where the likelihood of posting in English is 15% higher when all of the authors are from English-speaking countries, as compared to when none are. Similarly, posts on Facebook about papers from Brazilian authors are 13% more likely to be in Portuguese.
Conclusions/Significance: Overall, we found differences in the languages used to discuss research between the two platforms and depending on who authored the papers being discussed. The higher percentage of non-English posts on Facebook shows either a different set of users, or different perception of the audiences, with Twitter a place for global discussions in English and Facebook a place for more targeted conversations. The Zika outbreak points to the need to give serious consideration to the role of Facebook and other languages especially when the affected populations are not in English-speaking countries.
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