Role of Social Connectedness in Response to a Public Health Crisis: The Case Study of the Flint Water Crisis
25 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2021
Date Written: November 22, 2021
Many Americans are connected through various social media platforms, and these platforms have become major sources of news for many of them. This study analyzes how the Social Connectedness Index (SCI), based on Facebook’s friendship network, impacted public health disaster responses across the United States. Using the Flint water crisis as a case study and employing a continuous treatment difference-in-difference framework, this study finds that sales of bottled water increased significantly in the counties closely connected through Facebook with Genesee County, Michigan, where Flint is located. On average, I found that the monthly sales of bottled water in a county is higher by around $20,000 after the Flint water crisis (FWC) for each 10% higher SCI with respect to Genesee County of Michigan where Flint is located. The results are robust to a series of falsification tests. Heterogeneity studies suggest that counties with at least some level of health-related water quality violation show a higher increase in bottled water sales after the Flint water crisis. The heterogeneity study based on income level suggests that the main estimates are mostly driven by the high-income counties. Among the counties physically closer to Genesee County, the SCI had a stronger impact on the sales of bottled water after the FWC if Michigan state is removed from the analysis. Thus, while analyzing the cost associated with similar incidents, this study highlights the need for careful investigation of the spillover effect of the incidents that can arise due to (mis)information spread via social media networks.
Keywords: Social Connected Index, bottled water, Flint water crisis, public health
JEL Classification: D12, I12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation