Tweeting about public health policy: social media response to the UK Government's announcement of a Parliamentary vote on draft standardised packaging regulations

Jennifer Hatchard, Joao Quariguasi Frota Neto, Christos Vasilakis, Karen Evans-Reeves

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13 Citations (SciVal)
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Background Standardised tobacco packaging has been, and remains, a contentious policy globally, attracting corporate, public health, political, media and popular attention. In January 2015, the UK Government announced it would vote on draft regulations for the policy before the May 2015 General Election. We explored reactions to the announcement on Twitter, in comparison with an earlier period of little UK Government activity on standardised packaging. Methods We obtained a random sample of 1038 tweets in two 4-week periods, before and after the UK Government’s announcement. Content analysis was used to examine the following Tweet characteristics: support for the policy, purpose, Twitter-user’s geographical location and affiliation, and evidence citation and quality. Chi-squared analyses were used to compare Tweet characteristics between the two periods. Results Overall, significantly more sampled Tweets were in favour of the policy (49%) in comparison to those opposed (19%). Yet, at Time 2, following the announcement, a greater proportion of sampled tweets opposed standardised packaging compared to the period sampled at Time 1, prior to the announcement (p<0.001). The quality of evidence and research cited in URLs linked at Time 2 was significantly lower than at Time 1 (p<0.001), with peer-reviewed research more likely to be shared in positive Tweets (p<0.001) and in Tweets linking to URLs originating from the health sector (p<0.001). The decline in the proportion of positive Tweets was mirrored by a reduction in Tweets by health sector Twitter-users at Time 2 (p<0.001). Conclusions Microblogging sites can reflect offline policy debates and are used differently by policy proponents and opponents dependent on the policy context. Twitter-users opposed to standardised packaging increased their activity following the Government’s announcement, while those in support broadly maintained their rate of Twitter engagement. The findings offer insight into the public health community’s options for using Twitter to influence policy and disseminate research. In particular, proliferation of Twitter activity following pro-public health policy announcements could be considered to ensure pro-health messages are not overshadowed by anti-regulation voices.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0211758
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 26 Feb 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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