Comics in the time of COVID-19: Tracking data on web-based comics and evaluating their potential for communicating public health messages

About the project

Our pandemic lives are deeply entwined with visual, web-based public health messages, from instructional hand-washing pictograms to infographics about R numbers. Alongside these official public health communications, people have created thousands of web-based comics conveying public health messages.

In 2021 this Bournemouth University-based research team collected a sample of over 15,000 ‘COVID comics’ posted and shared over Instagram between January 2020 and March 2021. Researchers then coded our sample of comics to explore how the medium was used to shape and share public health messages. Insights from the analysis reveal how comics can work to help governments and health professionals reach wider audiences, humanise public health messages and challenge infodemics online.

Key policy recommendations include:

  • Best practice in public health messaging should combine visual storytelling and referencing techniques that acknowledge the existing literary practices of audiences.
  • Further develop communities of practice to enhance creative, evidence-based communications on social media.
  • Social media platform regulation should focus not just on suppressing or flagging dis or mis-information but also on tagging and amplifying evidence-based posts.
  • Combine regulation of social media platforms with strategies to strengthen people’s resilience to health misinformation through digital literacy.