A multi-method study of the influence of online and traditional media on public opinion of antibiotic use in livestock
Steede, Garrett Michael
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For millennia, antibiotics have been used to treat infections, although it was not until the last century or so that people discovered that infections were caused by bacteria. From 1945-1955, penicillin, streptomycin, chloramphenicol, and tetracycline ushered in the antibiotic age. However, today, many of these original antibiotics and most of their successors are largely ineffective due to antibiotic resistance. The use and misuse of antibiotics in both human and animal medicine has led to decreased efficacy of many common antibiotics due to bacteria’s ability to develop resistance. Using sentiment analysis software and content analysis, this three-phase study sought to understand how online and traditional media discuss the topic of antibiotic use in livestock. Using a public opinion survey in the last phase, this study additionally sought to understand what effect framing of antibiotic use in livestock and the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria had on public opinion. During phase one, Nuvi, a social media monitoring program, provided sentiment for each tweet and coded 64.8% of the content (n = 129) as negative compared to the 38.2% (n = 76) humans coded as negative. The contrast between human coders and Nuvi indicates there could be discrepancies between how Nuvi codes content and the way a human might interpret the content. No key influencer discussed antibiotic use in livestock positively. Findings suggest agricultural communicators should not rely completely on the output from Nuvi to evaluate how the public discusses issues related to agriculture, particularly controversial issues. During phase two, a quantitative content analysis was conducted on three national U.S. newspapers from 1996 – 2017 and found three primary frames were used when discussing antibiotic use in livestock and antibiotic resistance. The content analysis also indicated that over 40% of the news articles contained no scientific source when communicating about this scientific topic. Based on the frames identified, some readers are being ill-informed about this topic and could be using this information in their decision making without having all of the facts. Science communicators should prioritize the inclusion of scientific sources in their writing as they communicate about complex, controversial topics. In the final phase, a between-subjects experimental survey research design, 297 participants indicated their perceptions of antibiotic use in livestock and the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria before being randomly assigned to one of three conditions. Each condition was a mock Twitter account framed differently based on findings from phase two. After reading their assigned mock Twitter page, respondents indicated their trust of the information contained in the account, their information seeking behavior, demographics, and their support for antibiotic use in livestock. Using an ANCOVA, results indicated the frame influenced trust of information (F = 8.7, p < .05) and information seeking behavior (F = 4.48, p = .01) while support was not significant (F = 2.7, p = .07). Results suggest the blame frame has the greatest influence on shaping public opinion of antibiotic use in livestock and the development of antibiotic resistance. This study allowed for the development of a more robust understanding as to what kinds of information are being communicated to the public regarding the topic. By identifying what messages are being communicated to the public, the researcher was then able to test the effects of these messages on the public. This study indicated the inclusion and omission of specific information can influence public opinion of antibiotic use in livestock and the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.