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Clearing the air: evaluating institutions’ social media health messaging on wildfire and smoke risks in the US Pacific Northwest

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Wildfire smoke contributes substantially to the global disease burden and is a major cause of air pollution in the US states of Oregon and Washington. Climate change is expected to bring more wildfires to this region. Social media is a popular platform for health promotion and a need exists for effective communication about smoke risks and mitigation measures to educate citizens and safeguard public health.


Using a sample of 1,287 Tweets from 2022, we aimed to analyze temporal Tweeting patterns in relation to potential smoke exposure and evaluate and compare institutions’ use of social media communication best practices which include (i) encouraging adoption of smoke-protective actions; (ii) leveraging numeric, verbal, and Air Quality Index risk information; and (iii) promoting community-building. Tweets were characterized using keyword searches and the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software. Descriptive and inferential statistics were carried out.


44% of Tweets in our sample were authored between January-August 2022, prior to peak wildfire smoke levels, whereas 54% of Tweets were authored during the two-month peak in smoke (September-October). Institutional accounts used Twitter (or X) to encourage the adoption of smoke-related protective actions (82% of Tweets), more than they used it to disseminate wildfire smoke risk information (25%) or promote community-building (47%). Only 10% of Tweets discussed populations vulnerable to wildfire smoke health effects, and 14% mentioned smoke mitigation measures. Tweets from Washington-based accounts used significantly more verbal and numeric risk information to discuss wildfire smoke than Oregon-based accounts (p = 0.042 and p = 0.003, respectively); however, Tweets from Oregon-based accounts on average contained a higher percentage of words associated with community-building language (p < 0.001).


This research provides practical recommendations for public health practitioners and researchers communicating wildfire smoke risks on social media. As exposures to wildfire smoke rise due to climate change, reducing the environmental disease burden requires health officials to leverage popular communication platforms, distribute necessary health-related messaging rapidly, and get the message right. Timely, evidence-based, and theory-driven messaging is critical for educating and empowering individuals to make informed decisions about protecting themselves from harmful exposures. Thus, proactive and sustained communications about wildfire smoke should be prioritized even during wildfire “off-seasons.”

Catherine E. Slavik, Daniel A. Chapman, Alex Segrè Cohen, Nahla Bendefaa & Ellen Peters

Slavik, C.E., Chapman, D.A., Cohen, A.S. et al. Clearing the air: evaluating institutions’ social media health messaging on wildfire and smoke risks in the US Pacific Northwest. BMC Public Health 24, 379 (2024).

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