The Growing Role of Social Media in International Health Security: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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Advanced Sciences and Technologies for Security Applications


Social media (SM) has revolutionized how people interact and communicate, effectively turning our planet into a true “global village”. At the same time, new and unexpected challenges emerged in conjunction with SM, including phenomena of “fake news” and cyber-bullying. As with most technological advancements, international health security (IHS) stands to benefit hugely from the advent of SM. At the same time, some real and potential dangers associated with both intentional and unintentional misuse of SM exist. The chapter will outline how SM can be used to fight disease more effectively (e.g., by information sharing/case identification during outbreaks) but also cause confusion and unauthorized transfer of sensitive information (e.g., premature or erroneous notification of a public health emergency). Finally, public health panics and other forms of harm can potentially be orchestrated with malevolent use of SM involving vulnerable populations (e.g., misinformation campaigns, encouraging deleterious behaviors). In each of the above situations, and especially the latter, SM can be viewed as an asymmetric influencer, with low investment cost(s) leading to disproportionate population effect(s).

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