Assessing community response to wildfire smoke: A multimethod study using social media


Julie Marie Postma PhD, RN
Tara Marko PhDc, RN
Marissa Meyer MS
Abigail DeNike BS
Jennifer Thomas PhD, MSN, RN
Von Walden PhD
Patricia Butterfield PhD, RN



Objective: The purpose of this study was to assess health-related responses to wild-
fire smoke on social media. We examined whether seasonal wildfire smoke is an active

topic on Twitter, the correlation between fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and Twit-
ter search terms, and dimensions of community-level expression to wildfire smoke

through tweets.
Design: Search terms were identified using a conceptual model developed and refined

by healthcare providers and public health experts.Wildfire-related tweets were down-
loaded from Twitter users in Spokane, Washington during the 2017 and 2018 wildfire

seasons. PM2.5 data were correlated with the search terms. A subset of tweets
was deductively and then inductively coded to identify perceptions and behavioral
responses to wildfire smoke.
Results: Seasonal wildfire smoke is an active topic on Twitter. The term “smoke” was
strongly correlated with poor air quality and “unhealthy” was moderately correlated.
Deductive analyses revealed a multidimensional response to wildfire smoke. Inductive
analysis identified new areas of concern, such as pet and animal health.
Conclusions: Social media is a lens through which public health professionals can

assess and respond to local community needs. Findings will be used to broaden the con-
ceptual model, enhance ongoing surveillance of community-identified health risks, and

communicate protective actions.
particulate matter, public health, risk reduction, social media



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