Ebola Heroes. Power Dynamics and Heroization Discourse in Social Media Conversations.

Friday, 20 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Melissa ROY, University of Ottawa, Canada
This communication will analyze power dynamics in social media, by exploring online conversations on the topic of Ebola heroes. Traditionally, social media has been used by public and global health authorities in a unidirectional way: they propagate knowledge, but infrequently consider the lay public’s reception of this information and their understanding of epidemics, which is increasingly publicly accessible on social media sites.

This communication aims to analyze the lay public’s understanding and appreciation of the Ebola epidemic response, by exploring which actors were cast as heroes. We will also reflect on power dynamics circulating within social media conversations that may influence who is - and isn’t - valued through heroization.

This analysis of Ebola heroes will use international social media conversations as raw material. Data was collected from Twitter and Facebook using key word extraction, and the collected comments were divided into two corpuses: opinion-based data (primary data) and news-based comments (escort discourse data), each of which was submitted to a qualitative and quantitative lexical and content analysis.

From this analysis, the core of the communication will explore the influence of traditional “dominating” news media within social media conversations, as well as the tensions between “local heroes” (actors from west African communities) and “foreign heroes” (American and European individuals), and between “marginalized heroes” and “mainstream heroes”. In doing so, we will discuss social media’s role in molding and transmitting representation, and consider how historical and cultural power dynamics are (re)produced within heroization discourse.

As such, this communication will highlight how the analysis of online conversations in times of epidemics can allow health authorities to adjust their communication campaigns to foster a sense of agency in local actors, address ongoing tensions and conflicts, and encourage wider public engagement in fighting the epidemic.