NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #SocialMedia #MentalHealth #SuicidePrevention : Is your mob safe online ? New Report: Urges parents and communities to seek support with children’s online safety

Kids are growing up in two worlds, the real world and an online world. Just like we protect kids from dangers in the real world, it’s important to protect their safety in their online world too.

Many of our mob are unsure how to help keep their kids safe online. These resources are designed to educate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and carers of children aged 5 – 18 about the importance of starting the chat with young people around online safety.

Visit Be Deadly Online to find out more about the big issues online, like bullying, reputation and respect for others “

Download StarttheChatandStaySafeOnlinepdf

Start the Chat

Download Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Resources Here

“eSafety has built engaging and award-winning educational content to help adults understand the issues and trends so they can have informed conversations with young people about what they are doing and experiencing online.

There is no substitute for being as engaged in our kids’ online lives the way we are in their everyday lives.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to parenting in the digital-age. Our materials seek to accommodate these differing parenting styles and are tailored to be used in accordance with your child’s age, maturity and level of resilience,” 

eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant

Download the Report eSafetyResearchParentingDigitalAge

Parents are the first port of call for most young people affected by negative experiences online but less than half of parents feel confident to manage the situation, according to new research issued yesterday.

The report, Parenting in the digital age, conducted by the eSafety Commissioner (eSafety) explores the experience of parents and carers raising children in a fast-paced connected world.

eSafety found only 46% of Australian parents feel confident in dealing with online risks their children might face, with only one third (36%) actively seeking information on how to best manage situations like cyberbullying, unwanted contact or ‘sexting’ and ‘sending nudes’.

According to the eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, the findings reinforced the importance of providing resources to support parents and carers in managing conversations about online safety.

“We know dealing with online issues can be challenging for many parents. The issues are complex, nuanced and ever-changing and are different from what we experienced growing up,” says Inman Grant.

“The research shows 94% of parents want more information about online safety. This is why it is critical to equip parents and carers with up to date resources and advice on how to keep our children safer online. Australian parents need to know they are not alone in navigating this brave new online world and that there is constructive guidance to help them start the chat.”

Starting the chat, an important part of growing up safe online

“Everyone has a role to play in further safeguarding our children online and we are seeking the help of all parents, carers, educators, counsellors and anyone else that has a connection to a child or young person to answer this call.”


Starting the chat with teens, key to online safety (Stars Foundation)

The report also uncovered the varied parenting styles used to help manage online safety in the home. Parents with older children were more likely to favour an open parenting style, providing guidance and advice, while parents with younger children were more likely to adopt a restrictive approach by controlling online access and setting rules around internet-use.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to parenting in the digital-age. Our materials seek to accommodate these differing parenting styles and are tailored to be used in accordance with your child’s age, maturity and level of resilience,” adds Inman Grant.

Now is the time to start the chat.

Visit for a free copy of the report, as well as tools, tips and advice for parents, carers and educators to help manage these conversations, including tailored information for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as well as resources in various translated languages.

NACCHO Aboriginal Health and Racism : The power of social media supporting Adam Goodes


“On an individual level, exposure to racism is associated with psychological distress, depression, poor quality of life, and substance misuse, all of which contribute significantly to the overall ill-health experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Prolonged experience of stress can also have physical health effects, such as on the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems.”


Pat Anderson is chairwoman of the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research (and a former chair of NACCHO)

This week NACCHO’s Facebook post on Aboriginal Health Racism and supporting Adam Goodes received 50,855 Likes, comments and shares reaching 846,848 people (see above) . In total our NACCHO campaign Facebook posts reached over 2.30 Million People ( 1.4 Million Twitter and 930,000 Facebook)

Thousands took the time and effort to read this important paper on Aboriginal Health and Racism

First Published by NACCHO in 2013 from the Australian Opinion Article HERE

 In July 2013, the federal government launched its new National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan.

Update August 2015 the NATSHIP Implementation is due to be released shortly

As with all such plans, much depends on how it is implemented. With the details of how it is to be turned into meaningful action yet to be worked out, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities and organisations and others will be reserving their judgment.

Nevertheless, there is one area in which this plan breaks new ground, and that is its identification of racism as a key driver of ill-health.

This may be surprising to many Australians. The common perception seems to be that racism directed towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is regrettable, but that such incidents are isolated, trivial and essentially harmless.

Such views were commonly expressed, for example, following the racial abuse of Sydney Swans footballer Adam Goodes earlier this year.

However, the new health plan has got it right on this point, and it is worth looking in more detail at how and why.

So how common are racist behaviours, including speech, directed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

A key study in Victoria in 2010-11, funded by the Lowitja Institute, documented very high levels of racism experienced by Aboriginal Victorians.

It found that of the 755 Aboriginal Victorians surveyed, almost all (97 per cent) reported experiencing racism in the previous year. This included a range of behaviours from being called racist names, teased or hearing jokes or comments that stereotyped Aboriginal people (92 per cent); being sworn at, verbally abused or subjected to offensive gestures because of their race (84 per cent); being spat at, hit or threatened because of their race (67 per cent); to having their property vandalised because of race (54 per cent).

Significantly, more than 70 per cent of those surveyed experienced eight or more such incidents in the previous 12 months.

Other studies have found high levels of exposure to racist behaviours and language.

Such statistics describe the reality of the lived experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Most Australians would no doubt agree this level of racist abuse and violence is unwarranted and objectionable. It infringes upon our rights – not just our rights as indigenous people but also our legal rights as Australian citizens.

But is it actually harmful? Is it a health issue? Studies in Australia echo findings from around the world that show the experience of racism is significantly related to poor physical and mental health.

There are several ways in which racism has a negative effect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s health.

First, on an individual level, exposure to racism is associated with psychological distress, depression, poor quality of life, and substance misuse, all of which contribute significantly to the overall ill-health experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Prolonged experience of stress can also have physical health effects, such as on the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems.

Second, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may be reluctant to seek much-needed health, housing, welfare or other services from providers they perceive to be unwelcoming or who they feel may hold negative stereotypes about them.

Last, there is a growing body of evidence that the health system itself does not provide the same level of care to indigenous people as to other Australians. This systemic racism is not necessarily the result of individual ill-will by health practitioners, but a reflection of inappropriate assumptions made about the health or behaviour of people belonging to a particular group.

What the research tells us, then, is that racism is not rare and it is not harmless: it is a deeply embedded pattern of events and behaviours that significantly contribute to the ill-health suffered by all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Tackling these issues is not easy. The first step is for governments to understand racism does have an impact on our health and to take action accordingly. Tackling racism provides governments with an opportunity to make better progress on their commitments to Close the Gap, as the campaign is known, in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. The new plan has begun this process, but it needs to be backed up with evidence-based action.

Second, as a nation we need to open up the debate about racism and its effects.

The recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution is important for many reasons, not least because it could lead to improved stewardship and governance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health (as explored in a recent Lowitja Institute paper, “Legally Invisible”).

However, the process around constitutional recognition provides us with an opportunity to have this difficult but necessary conversation about racism and the relationship between Australia’s First Peoples and those who have arrived in this country more recently. Needless to say, this conversation needs to be conducted respectfully, in a way that is based on the evidence and on respect for the diverse experiences of all Australians.

Last, we need to educate all Australians, especially young people, that discriminatory remarks, however casual or apparently light-hearted or off-the-cuff, have implications for other people’s health.

Whatever approaches we adopt, they must be based on the recognition that people cannot thrive if they are not connected.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to be connected with their own families, communities and cultures. We must also feel connected to the rest of society. Racism cuts that connection.

At the same time, racism cuts off all Australians from the unique insights and experiences that we, the nation’s First Peoples, have to offer.

Seen this way, recognising and tackling racism is about creating a healthier, happier and better nation in which all can thrive.

Pat Anderson is chairwoman of the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research.

NACCHO Aboriginal Health :Social media the new health danger in Aboriginal Communities


The use of social media in the region is also problematic because of the small population size of remote communities, and the complex family relationships that often break down into community division.

The exposure of the mental health epidemic afflicting children in the lands comes as community leaders call for more action to protect children. Some community members say the government must consider a strong response, such as community boarding houses, to keep children safe at night.

ABORIGINAL teenagers in remote communities of central Australia are using Facebook to regularly threaten suicide, prostitute themselves and talk about substance abuse.

Child welfare advocates have sent The Australian Facebook posts from children as young as 13 that lay bare the dysfunction of the region.


Bullying is also commonplace, with teenagers regularly threatening violent abuse on the site.

Picture Above: Nyuminya Ken, from Ernabella in the APY Lands of South Australia, has sent her daughter away to school in Victoria to escape cyber bullying. Picture: Stuart McEvoy Source: News Corp Australia

Story Sarah Martin Published THE AUSTRALIAN 20 FEB


The disturbing posts include a teenage girl expressing “real shame” at young girls in her community who “strip their self when they hanging out for dope”.

The Australian has seen at least a dozen posts of children from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands threatening suicide, and posts of teenagers listing mobile phone numbers to procure sex.

Nyuminya Ken, a respected elder in the community of Ernabella, said there was widespread concern about the inappropriate use of Facebook.

One post has a young girl saying “all the man stop ringing to my phone, I’m little kids, not big woman … I don’t like big man”. In another post, a pregnant 18-year-old says she is addicted to sniffing laundry products, saying: “Damaging this kids brain. Cnt get rid of it. Gona sniff it all night till I get sick.” Another girl, understood to be just 14, threatens to hang herself when her family goes to sleep. “Feel lost right now hang myself,” the girl writes.

The use of social media in the region is also problematic because of the small population size of remote communities, and the complex family relationships that often break down into community division.

The exposure of the mental health epidemic afflicting children in the lands comes as community leaders call for more action to protect children. Some community members say the government must consider a strong response, such as community boarding houses, to keep children safe at night.

Child Protection Minister Jennifer Rankine said she had ordered Families SA to do an immediate check on each of the children, whose posts were brought to the department’s attention by The Australian.

“I have been advised that only one of the seven young people is known to Families SA,” Ms Rankine said. “An FSA officer has been instructed to check on this child’s welfare immediately.

“I have also instructed FSA to work with SA Police in an effort to … check on their welfare.”

A spokeswoman for the minister said police had checked on the children and they were “safe and happy”.

Mrs Ken said that she had spoken to the region’s women’s council and police about its use, and wanted more action to prevent it adding to the community’s ills.

“All the girls are doing Facebook, and we don’t want it on their phones,” she said.

She said she had asked for the police to come to the school to talk to students about the Facebook “problem.”

A Facebook spokeswoman said the safety of users was a priority. “Facebook takes threats of self-harm very seriously. We also work with suicide prevention agencies around the world to provide assistance for people in distress.”

As for the site being used for minors to procure sex, the spokeswoman said Facebook had a strict policy, involving law enforcement collaboration, against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor was involved.

If you are depressed or contemplating suicide, help is available at Lifeline on 131 114.

Please Take

NACCHO needs to improve how we  connect, inform and engage into the Ifuture.


NACCHO Aboriginal sexual health: Spreading positive sexual health messages with Facebook


How Facebook is helping Aboriginal youth in NSW learn about sexual health and other matters relating to personal responsibility.

From Matthew Rodgers AH&MRC


Facebook is playing a key role in the AH&MRC’s It’s Your Choice, Have a Voice: Rights, Respect and Responsibility campaign and helping to empower young Aboriginal people to make informed choices about sexual health and related issues.

Over the course of 2011, the It’s Your Choice Have a Voice: Rights, Respect and Responsibility campaign was rolled out to 14 communities in NSW and reached some 4,000 young people aged 12-19 years. The campaign included hip-hop workshops, music workshops, salsa workshops and Deadly Styles dance performances. Events were hosted in partnership with Indigenous Hip-hop Projects (IHHP), local Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) and Local Health Districts (LHDs).

Other key partners in rolling out the campaign were Aboriginal Sexual and Reproductive Health Workers and other Aboriginal Health Workers based in ACCHSs.

“At the start of the campaign we considered what would be the best way to involve young people in the program, because our focus was young Aboriginal people 12-19 years old,” says Dina Saulo, AH&MRC Project Officer, Sexual and Reproductive Health. “We decided we needed a Facebook page because that was where our target group was and determined that was the best way to interact with them.”

The AH&MRC provided pre-campaign workshops and support during the implementation phase of It’s Your Choice Have a Voice and also created and moderated social media over the course of the campaign’s roll-out to communities in NSW.

“It was six weeks in duration, with three days in each community and three workshops a day, so we were busy and on the road the whole time,” Saulo says. “While we were on the road working in one community, the social media aspect of the program was a great way to let people know where and when the next workshop was going to be.”

Saulo says social media was a natural fit for the campaign because the focus was on young people, who were eager to take photos and videos at the workshops they attended. “The reason why we have so much interaction with young people on our Facebook page is that we were encouraging them to join our network as we were doing the hip hop workshops with them,” she says.

“We’d say to the kids who attended, ‘Get on Facebook, tag yourself in photo and see the videos we’ve put up.’. We’ve generated a lot of content to put on there from the campaign, and that’s why so many young people visit the page.”

It also helps that Aboriginal people are well represented on social media sites, which many use to keep in touch with family and friends. “There are lots of Aboriginal people on Facebook in general, and from our target age group in particular,” Saulo says. “We found that a lot of people who weren’t participating in the campaign were liking our page and checking out our content because they had friends and family members who were taking part.”

Not surprisingly, the chief challenge the Sexual and Reproductive Health team faced with regard to Facebook was the time and resources required to manage everything, especially while on the move from town to town.

“The amount of time that social media took up was incredible, but it was one of the main drivers of the campaign and definitely a key reason why it was so successful,” Saulo says.

“Young people want their photos and videos instantly available to them – that’s what social media is about,” she says. “This generation wants things instantly so that’s what we do.

According to Saulo, a typical day on the It’s Your Choice, Have a Voice campaign went something like this: The team would host up to three workshops in the community and as soon as the they were finished, team members would upload about 10 photos from that day’s workshops and then catalogue the rest of the photos and videos into a specific area. Next, the team would provide updates about where the campaign would be in the following days. Lastly, team members would answer questions and respond to user comments.

“As soon as we were done, we would do it all again the next day,” Saulo says. “It was a full time job.”

As a result, Saulo says that when thinking about the allocation and funding and resources for campaigns there needs to be serious consideration given to how much time the social media side of things takes up.

“We didn’t realise just how much work it was going to be,” she says. “But we had to monitor the Facebook page constantly, because obviously young people were using it and interacting with us. We haven’t had any major issues with it so far, thankfully, but it is an ongoing process that requires constant attention.”

Due to the fact that the campaign was aimed at young people, a high level of vigilance was required to ensure only appropriate content was posted on the page and that all interactions were within acceptable boundaries.

“We put our profanity blocker up on high, so we never had any bad language on our wall,” Saulo says. “A lot of the young people also asked to add us as friends, but you have to have boundaries. Neither AH&MRC staff nor the dancers were allowed to add anyone from the workshops as friends.”

Saulo also claims that while privacy and appropriateness were concerns, when it comes to interacting with people on social media, consistency is the key to success. “Consistency is everything,” she says. “Be consistent in the amount you upload. Be consistent in the way you talk to people, so they feel like it is one person communicating with them rather than several different people.”

According to Saulo, young people actually noticed when different people were administrating the page, which necessitated the AH&MRC having to ensure a consistent tone was maintained in all interactions. “It’s all about knowing who your target audience is, which means working out what your online persona will be during the planning stages, before you go online,” Saulo says.

Similarly, the information the was fed back to the AH&MRC from Facebook’s usage statistics proved to be very useful, both for those running the workshop and the organisations which were the campaign’s funding partners.

“Age, geography, sex, these kind of statistics were very useful,” says Saulo. “The geographical information we received sorted data according to all the little communities we went to, so we could look at all the places we’d been and see how many people from those communities liked our page.”

The Facebook page was also a useful tool for enabling funding bodies track the progress of the campaign. “It was a good way of feeding back to our funders,” says Saulo. “It was good to be able to provide them with the numbers for things like YouTube views, SoundCloud listens and other information that proved how effective we’d been in reaching the youth in these particular communities.”

Clearly, Facebook helped the It’s Your Choice Have a Voice campaign to achieve all this and more. The program was evaluated in 2012 and judged to have met all key performance indicators, leading to it being refunded for another two years.

NACCHO NEWS: How the NSW Aboriginal health mob is using social media to “kick the habit” of smoking


Social Media and Tobacco Resistance and Control

From Matthew Rodgers AH&MRC

Facebook is helping the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW spread anti-smoking messages to communities across the state.

The Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW’s Tobacco Resistance and Control (A-TRAC) team created a Facebook page to help promote the Kick the Habit anti-smoking campaign.


So far, the use of the social media site has delivered many benefits to the AH&MRC, it’s member ACCHSs and the communities they serve by helping to spread information about tobacco resistance and control, and encouraging Aboriginal people from communities across NSW to engage with the project.

Kick the Habit is a social marketing campaign funded by the NSW Ministry of Health that involves working with Aboriginal communities to develop resources that encourage members of the community to quit smoking.

It is managed by the AH&MRC’s A-TRAC Program, which has the broad goal of reducing tobacco use among Aboriginal people by integrating tobacco control and smoking cessation activities into the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS) model of comprehensive primary health care.

Launched in 2011, the Kick the Habit Facebook page marked the AH&MRC’s first foray into social media. According to A-TRAC Senior Project Officer Summer Finlay, the Kick the Habit Facebook page has been an effective way of connecting with community members and workers in ACCHSs to help spread the anti-tobacco message.

“There are about 50 ACCHSs in NSW and we can’t go to every community as much as we’d like, so Facebook helps us maintain relationships, connect with communities and sustain a presence, despite not being able to be there physically,” she says.

Right from Kick the Habit’s inception, social media was a key component in the social marketing campaign’s overall strategy.

In 2010, the AH&MRC began Phase One of the campaign, which was a pilot program involving six communities in NSW. During Phase One, these communities worked to develop resources to increase awareness of smoking cessation options and reduce the prevalence of smoking in Aboriginal communities.

After the pilot project was complete, Kick the Habit Phase Two was initiated and the program was rolled out to three communities in NSW with active participation by the local ACCHSs.

A film starring local role models was made specifically for each community, and a state-wide compilation film was generated from each of the three community’s films. The communities also created a number of additional resources, including brochures, banners and posters, as well as a range of print and radio advertising materials. All of these were tied together using Facebook as a promotional tool.

“Back in 2010, when we were planning Phase One, I don’t think there were many NGOs using social media to promote campaigns, or at least not that we were aware of,” says Finlay. “There was a bit of trial and error but we took what we learnt in that pilot phase and applied that to Phase Two.”

Those lessons formed the basis for a series of social media usage guidelines created by the A-TRAC team. “We had a look at what was working and what wasn’t, and we used that to create the guidelines,” Finlay says. “It was a bit of a learning curve, but it was important that we addressed concerns about things like privacy and security, as well as established what we considered to be boundaries for acceptable use of social media.”

Chief among the issues that had to be addressed was how to moderate the site, especially with regard to dealing with inappropriate comments and other material. According to Finlay, Facebook makes it managing the site simple by allowing administrators to specify keywords that moderate posts automatically, which meant that if a user tried to post offensive material it would be blocked instantly.

“I think Facebook has gotten quite smart with security in recent years, so if people use the inbuilt security controls properly, they shouldn’t encounter significant issues.” Finlay says.

“Another good thing about Facebook is that you can approve people as they add you to their network, which allows us to reject inappropriate friend requests,” she says. “This hasn’t been a major issue for us, but you do have to be aware all the time. For example, we did have an issue with someone trying to use our page to promote a quit smoking program for financial gain, so of course we blocked them.”

Finlay says that of the many challenges associated with using social media to assist with health promotion campaigns, sourcing the right content and finding the time and resources to manage social media effectively are at the top her list.

“Social media is time consuming,” she says. “You really have to put work into the overall look and feel of your page.”

Content is another issue, both the type of material posted and the frequency with which the Facebook page is updated. “Sourcing material to put up can be quite difficult, particularly finding content that is Aboriginal-specific,” Finlay says.

“Having good content is only half the battle,” she adds . “You’ve also got to get the timing right. We found that if you posted multiple things on one day, there was too much material appearing in people’s news streams and they were ‘un-liking’ us, which was counterproductive. With Twitter it is different because people use keyword searches and don’t care if you post multiple times a day, but Facebook users seem to be much more cautious about content.”

Finlay says the A-TRAC team found it was better to provide a steady stream of content rather than post a large amount of material at one time, an issue she addressed in the AH&MRC social media guidelines. She also says there was a some of initial reluctance on the part of ACCHSs to send in content, due largely to concerns about consent. “That’s changed now, thanks to some encouragement and hard work on our part,” Finlay says.

“The guidelines also really help, because they outline with how to use the page and explain what to do and what not to do,” she says.

Consistency is also of paramount importance. “You also have to make sure that if there are multiple people acting as administrators on the account that you all use it in the same way,” Finlay says.

“That was one of the bigger challenges we faced. We had several people who were administrators and it had to have a consistent feel – it’s the Kick the Habit page, not a page for team members to express their individual personalities.”

In October 2011, Facebook created Insights, which provides measurements on a page’s performance and includes anonymous demographic data about the audience, enabling those administering the site to see how people are discovering and responding to posts. The data provided includes statistics on the reach of content (how ‘viral’ it goes), as well as breakdowns of who is using the page according to gender and region.

“As long as you have more than 30 people engaging on your page during a week, Insights can give you quite a comprehensive breakdown,” Finlay says.

“In addition to information about who is using the page, and which town or city they’re from, we’ve found the gender statistics to be particularly useful. For instance, we learnt that there are a lot more females engaging with the program than the males, some 67% as opposed to 33% for men. This kind of feedback is invaluable both for planning future campaigns and tailoring our messages to ensure we reach our target audience”

Finlay’s advice to others in the health sector who might be looking to social media to help advance their health campaigns is very straightforward: plan ahead and be prepared to put in a lot of time to make your page successful.

“Everyone involved has to be really clear on what you’re trying to achieve with social media, because there has to be a high level of consistency in the look and feel, and most importantly in your communications with people,” she says.

“Once you have established your goals, you need to understand that running the site is going to take time. Everyone must be prepared to put in the effort that’s required to make it happen.”

Social media: How will your Aboriginal health services put the public in public health information dissemination

 Using new communications technologies to allow people to directly receive relevant and up-to-the-minute public health information could benefit the health of millions,” says Professor Robert Steele .

Copies of the relevant peer-reviewed publications for this study are available on the

Health Informatics Computation and Innovation Lab website


Article first published University of Sydney

NACCHO Social media Project

NACCHO is currently assisting with the research for a major national health sector magazine on how our Aboriginal community controlled heath sector is using social media to Close the Gap (e.g. smoking campaigns, healthy lifestyle etc.)

Developing social media policies in ACCHO

If your mob has a positive story to tell or requires assistance developing a social media policy for your staff and/or organisation, contact


The research, by Professor Robert Steele and PhD candidate Dan Dumbrell

 According to new research from the University of Sydney, micro-blog-based services such as Twitter could be a promising medium to spread important information about public health.

The research, by Professor Robert Steele and PhD candidate Dan Dumbrell, indicates social media networks such as Twitter have distinct and potentially powerful characteristics that distinguish them from traditional online methods of public health information dissemination, such as search engines. This research is part of Professor Steele’s broader investigations on the impacts of emerging technologies on health and health care.

“Using new communications technologies to allow people to directly receive relevant and up-to-the-minute public health information could benefit the health of millions and change the paradigm of public health information dissemination,” says Professor Steele, Head of Discipline and Chair of Health Informatics at the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

“Twitter has a powerful characteristic in that it is members of the public who distribute public health information by forwarding messages from public health organisations to their followers.”

According to Professor Steele, this provides a new way for public health organisations to both engage more directly with the public and leverage individuals’ networks of followers, which have ‘self-organised’ by topic of interest. Major social networks currently have hundreds of millions of users and continue to grow rapidly.

While most public health information is sought through online search engines, it has previously been found that relevant public health documents are not always successfully located and disseminated due to the user’s search methods.

Important public health information that may benefit from micro-blogs could include communicable disease outbreaks, information about natural disasters, promotion of new treatments and clinical trials, and dietary and nutrition advice.

“When you look for information on a search engine, algorithms and computers determine the most important results. With social media networks, you have a ‘push’ mechanism, where interested individuals are directly alerted to public health information. You also have a prodigious network of users whose time and effort to find and follow relevant accounts, and to filter which information is forwarded or retweeted represents a powerful aggregate human work effort.”

The researchers examined a sample of more than 4,700 tweets from 114 Australian government, non-profit and for-profit health-related organisations. Each of the tweets was categorised according to the health condition mentioned, the type of information provided, whether a hyperlink was included, and whether there were any replies or retweets.

Non-profit organisations made up almost two-thirds of the group, and had a much higher average following than their for-profit counterparts. The majority of tweets in the sample, 59 percent, were non condition-specific, followed by tweets about mental health, cancer and lifestyle (fitness and nutrition).

“Most major health conditions were present in the twittersphere, but we were somewhat surprised by the proportions,” says Professor Steele.

“Four of the government’s National Health Priority Areas were underrepresented in our sample, including asthma, arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, injury prevention and control, and obesity. These conditions only made up 1.7 percent of health-related tweets.”

For-profit organisation tweets were dominant in the maternity, pharmaceutical and dental areas, most likely because of their potential as a source of commercialisation or potential profit.

However, despite having the largest average number of tweets, for-profit organisations also had the lowest number of average followers, indicating consumers were more likely to reject sites they considered promotional or sales-based.

Non-profit Twitter accounts provided the majority of tweets in the sample, with a large number of fundraising and awareness-raising tweets.

However, despite having a far lower average number of tweets, government accounts were found to be the most successful at disseminating public health information, with the greatest number of average followers and re-tweets.

There were also a number of common characteristics to highly re-tweeted public health advice tweets. Actionable tweets, which provided readers with information to act upon in relation to their health, were highly successful, along with time relevance and relation to particular events, a personally directed style of language and rhetorical questions.

Interestingly, perceived acuteness of health risk and need for others to be informed also drove information dissemination.

“The real-time insight Twitter gives us into exactly how consumers react to and spread public health information is unprecedented,” says Professor Steele.

“With further research, it’s likely Twitter will change how we disseminate public health information online. In addition, our ability to analyse pathways, reach, and the identity of information recipients could provide new possibilities for analytical techniques and software tools to further improve public health information dissemination.


Copies of the relevant peer-reviewed publications for this study are available on theHealth Informatics Computation and Innovation Lab website or by contacting