How State Officials Are Trying To Use TikTok To Stop The Spread Of COVID-19

“They’re called influencers for a reason; they influence people in their decisions and their behaviors.”

By Michael MarksAugust 20, 2020 2:16 pm, ,

Correction: The attached audio and a previous written version of this story misidentify the amount of money DSHS is spending to work with social media influencers. A DSHS spokesperson clarifies it is “only a small portion of the overall campaign.” Texas Standard regrets the error.

Texas Department of State Health Services, or DSHS, is partnering with social media influencers and enhance awareness of COVID-19. 

“We must social distance six feet apart, and wear our masks, and wash your hands, buddies,” North Texan Parker James told his followers, in a recent TikTok video with over 1 million views. 

Corey Basch, the department chair of public health at William Paterson University, has researched the effects of using social media to spread public health information like this. 

“What can not be overlooked is the impressive and widespread reach that this platform has,” Basch said of TikTok, which is approaching 1 billion users worldwide. “They’re called ‘influencers’ for a reason; they influence people in their decisions and their behaviors.”

The campaign is still in its early stages, and there are very few studies on the effectiveness of TikTok, specifically. But for teenagers and young adults, social media campaigns are more accessible than typical public service announcements. 

“We are catching them, the adolescence, where they are, in a timely way, with a person that they respect and they want to see. We’re not looking at someone with a white lab coat explaining to us the scientific purpose behind wearing a mask,” Basch said. 

Basch said DSHS’s financial investment in the initiative, which the agency told Texas Standard in an email is “only a small portion of the overall [$6 million] campaign,” is a worthwhile endeavor because it could help save lives. According to Basch: “When the outcome that we’re talking about is illness, spread of disease, and potentially death, I don’t think you could even put a price tag on that.” 

Web story by Sarah Gabrielli.

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