SOCIAL MEDIA LOGIC AND HEALTH COMMUNICATION BETWEEN INDEPENDENCE AND CONSTRAINTS: EVIDENCE FROM ITALY DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Keywords:social media, health communication, covid-19, local health authorities, platforms
This paper presents the results of a study that investigated how local health authorities (LHAs) located in the most impacted areas by Covid-19 of Lombardy (North of Italy) answered to the challenges imposed by the pandemic through their official Facebook pages during the early weeks of the emergency (January-March 2020). The goal is to understand how the logics of social media affected LHAs’ communication, representing an opportunity for health institutions to enter a new phase of information diffusion and relations with stakeholders and layperson, but also a mean of constraints due to their algorithmic logics and limits of access. The originality of the approach is that, in order to understand the relationship between social media and local health authorities, the theoretical framework hybridizes health communication theories and social media studies. Empirical results showed that LHAs’ communication on Facebook was affected by the logics of programmability and popularity, and also that the institutional language was shaped by social media habits, with an intense use of visuals, hashtags and other engagement strategies. Findings highlighted also that Covid-19 related messaged triggered users’ interactions. The study pointed out the relevance of social media for healthcare communication, opening up new reflections and insights about platforms’ role on ordinary and emergency situations like the pandemic. Interdependence and tensions between public health communication and algorithmic and platform logics are critically discussed.