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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

WashU: E-Cigarette “Twitter Bomb” in Chicago Came from Outside City

A “Twitter bomb” opposing the regulation of electronic cigarettes in Chicago came mostly from Twitter users outside of the Chicago area, according to an analysis by the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Jenine Harris
 [Photo: Dr. Jenine Harris]

The Twitter flurry began after the Chicago Department of Public Health released a series of messages about e-cigarettes through its Twitter account a week before the city council was to vote on proposed regulations. Twitter users sent more than 600 tweets in one week against the proposal.

Researchers at the Brown School collected and analyzed all the tweets. Most against the regulation were from outside the Chicago area, while Twitter users from Chicago were significantly more likely to tweet in support of the policy. About 14 percent of the tweets used an account or included elements consistent with “astroturfing,” a strategy used to promote a false sense of consensus.

The study was led by Dr. Jenine Harris, assistant professor at the Brown School and scholar at Washington University’s Institute for Public Health.  It was published October 16 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

“Public health professionals should be aware of these sorts of coordinated responses to controversial topics and recognize that the sentiment expressed may not be that of their local constituency,” Dr. Harris said.

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