Virus Visualization on Instagram: Evaluating COVID-19 Case Surveillance Instagram Posts Using the Crisis Emergency Risk Communication Model

Published: 17 December 2020| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/fcxxbt6mzr.1
Channing Bice


Amidst infectious disease outbreaks, such as COVID-19, social media is being used to strategically communicate throughout the progression of a public health crisis. The Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) Model combines notions of crisis, risk, and outbreak communication throughout different stages of a crisis (Lwin et al., 2018; Reynolds, 2002; Reynolds & Seeger, 2005). This research investigates the ability to adapt the CERC Model to visual outbreak-related updates on Instagram. Instagram posts were collected from a state-level public health authority from March to December 2020 and analysed using a dual qualitative visual and textual analysis. Results suggested that Instagram was strategically used by public health authorities by integrating data visualizations into outbreak-related updates. Additionally, findings indicate that Instagram provides meaningful opportunities for health authorities to engage with their audiences during a public health crisis but underscores the importance of prompt engagement. Publics predominantly engaged in comments expressing shared citizen responsibility for slowing the spread, but the uncertainty associated with this crisis yielded several questions from the public where all inquiry comments were addressed by conspiratorial comments, rather than the public health authority. Limitations and future directions for applying the CERC Model to outbreak-related updates on Instagram are also discussed.



Colorado State University


Infectious Disease, Public Health, Communication, Social Media, Information Visualization, Data Visualization, Health Communication, Risk Communication, Health Promotion and Health Maintenance, Crisis Communication, Instagram, COVID-19