As COVID emergencies end, RPI finds social media played “critical” role in decreasing positivity rates at educational institutions
Researchers have found that social media played a critical role in decreasing COVID positivity rates at educational institutions.
On Friday, the World Health Organization announced the end of the emergency it declared for COVID-19 three years ago. The United States ends its federal emergency this week. With more than three years of data on the pandemic, researchers are diving in.
Sebastian Souyris teaches Supply Chain and Analytics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He contributed to research led by Anton Ivanov, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
The team found that employing social media posts as a means of "visual nudging" to encourage safe behaviors resulted in decreased COVID-19 positivity rates of up to 25%.
"Nudge theory" focuses on using indirect suggestions and positive reinforcement to influence behavior, especially when applied visually.
Souyris says the team analyzed data including 80,000 Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter images from 117 colleges nationwide. They found that so-called “soft” visual nudges were most effective, in that they did not have a direct message to wear a mask but simply showed images of people wearing masks.
"So those universities that consistently show mask images did better than the universities that didn't show," said Souyris. "We were able to measure this through to sophisticated econometric models, and controlling for many different variables that we use to, to isolate this effect."
Prior to this study, visual nudges specific to social media had not been explored extensively.
Souyris says the takeaway message is rather than send a specific rule across email and social media, such as "everyone has to wear a mask from now on," it is more effective to transmit an image that depicts people apparently wearing masks "because they want to," which entices recipients to adopt the same behavior.
"So in order to achieve that, you have to have your community engage with your social media," said Souyris. "So you have to be careful and, and work through time creating an account, a social media account, that is fun to watch, that the people wanted to see sending positive messages, and communicating different kinds of things. Use well your social media accounts, they are powerful tools."
Meanwhile, 108th district state Assemblyman John McDonald, a Democrat who is also a licensed pharmacist, says even though the worst of the pandemic may have passed, COVID vaccination rates are beginning to rise again... "...only because the CDC just came out with a recent announcement, an upgrade that those individuals 65 years of age and over can receive another bivalent vaccine, if they choose to, provide they've had four months from their last dose," said McDonlad. "And then of course, those sort of immune compromised ones that have had two months separation. So we're starting to see a pickup again of that. I think we're seeing a little bit of a burst, but I think many people are waiting to see what's going to happen in the fall."