Online authority communication during an epidemic: A Finnish example

Tirkkonen, Päivi; Luoma-aho, Vilma
Public Relations Review

Social media are creating new challenges for authority communications during crises, such as a pandemic. This study examined Finnish citizens’ opinions about authorities as crisis managers during the swine flu epidemic of 2009–2010 and examined the success of authority intervention to online discussion forums. Through a content analysis carried out at the discussion forums, the study showed that though authorities are highly trusted in general in Finland, this trust is not extended to the online environment. Online, civilians did not trust authorities and the protective actions taken. Moreover, the authorities’ intervention to the discussion forums aimed at correcting false information and shaping opinions seemed to fail, as the intervention was carried out too late and with too little resources. The paper calls for more proactive authority communication that would establish a dialogue with citizens before a crisis to ensure credibility during difficult times.