Critical Communications: A Retrospective Look at the Use of Social Media among American Sierra Leoneans during the Ebola Outbreak


  • Abimbola Onigbanjo Williams Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
  • Jennifer Warren Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
  • Lauren Kurlander Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
  • Mafudia Suaray Robert Wood University Medical School


Communication, Ebola, Sierra Leone, Social Media, United States


This study explores perceptions of the role of social media in facilitating communication and information sharing between Sierra Leoneans in Sierra Leone and the United States during the Ebola outbreak. Using the model of identity-congruent communication as the conceptual framework, a series of focus groups revealed four major themes: social media source of information, topics of communicated information, implementation of communication strategies, and consequences of inaccurate or incomplete information. The use of WhatsApp was reported as the main source of communication with family and friends in Sierra Leone during the outbreak. Participants felt they received up-to-date information on deaths, outbreak updates, and conspiracy theory updates from the Ebola outbreak. Discussions on inaccurate and misleading information on Ebola prevention was common and fueled fear and created distrust in interpersonal relationships.

Author Biographies

Abimbola Onigbanjo Williams, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

School of Public Health & Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, MPH, MS

Jennifer Warren, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

School of Communication & Information, PhD

Lauren Kurlander, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

MD Candidate 2017



Mafudia Suaray, Robert Wood University Medical School





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