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The impact of news exposure on collective attention during an epidemic: the case of Zika outbreak in 2016

In recent years, many studies have drawn attention to the important role of collective awareness and human behaviour during epidemic outbreaks. A  number of modelling efforts have investigated the interaction between the disease transmission dynamics and human behaviour change mediated by news coverage and by information spreading in the population. Yet,  given the scarcity of data on public awareness during an epidemic, few studies have relied on empirical data.

In a new paper out in Plos Computational Biology, ISI Foundation researchers Michele  Tizzoni, André Panisson, Daniela Paolotti and Ciro Cattuto study the dynamics of collective attention received by the 2016 Zika epidemic in the USA and its interplay with the media coverage of the outbreak.  Scientists use fine-grained, geo-referenced data from three online sources (Wikipedia, the GDELT Project and the Internet Archive) to quantify population-scale information seeking about the virus epidemic,  explicitly linking such behavioural signal to epidemiological data.

Geo-localized  Wikipedia pageview data reveal that visiting patterns of Zika-related pages were highly synchronized across the U.S. and largely explained by exposure to national tv broadcast. News volume and Wikipedia visiting patterns were not significantly correlated with the magnitude or the extent of the epidemic: generally, collective attention to the Zika outbreak seems to have been driven more by news exposure than by the disease transmission dynamics. Scientists suggest these results call for a new and more general modelling framework to describe the interaction between media exposure, public awareness and disease dynamics during epidemic outbreaks.

“The impact of news exposure on collective attention in the United States during the 2016 Zika epidemic”, Michele Tizzoni, André Panisson, Daniela Paolotti, Ciro Cattuto. PlosComputational Biology, 12th March 2020. Link: The impact of news exposure on collective attention in the United States during the 2016 Zika epidemic