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Tweeting during food crises: A psychosocial analysis of EHEC threat coping expressions on social media

Authors: Rui Gaspar, Sara Gorjão, Beate Seibt, Luisa Lima, Julie Barnett, Adrian Moss, Josephine Wills

Journal of Human-Computer Studies


Food crises imply responses that are not what people and organisations would normally do, if they were not under threat. At the individual level, this demands the implementation of a set of coping strategies to deal with stressful experiences. In this regard, social media presents itself as a valuable resource to access expressions of these processes. Also, given that individual’s messages include references not only to them but also to their context, it allows an analysis at the psychosocial level. Based on this, our study analysed twitter messages produced by individuals during the 2011 EHEC/E. Coli outbreak in Europe, due to contaminated food products, aimed at identifying: 1) the ways of coping expressed during a food crisis; and 2) the relationship between uncertainty expressed in hazard notifications and the former. Results showed that coping during the food crisis was dynamic, flexible and social, with a predominance of accommodation, information seeking and opposition strategies, thus drawing on their own resources (self) and/or the ones available in their social context. Moreover, during a period of uncertainty about the target (source and origin), significantly less strategies dependent on the contaminated product identification (escape and problem solving) and more expressions of submission (e.g. perseverance) and opposition (e.g. anger) were more found. Implications of these and other results for food risk communication and for the development of food crises social media surveillance systems will be discussed.

Keywords: social media; food crisis; coping; qualitative analysis; EHEC/E. coli