Physical distancing messages targeting youth on the social media accounts of Canadian public health entities and the use of behavioral change techniques Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Abstract Introduction Physical distancing (PD) is an important public health strategy to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and has been promoted by public health authorities through social media. Although youth have a tendency to engage in high-risk behaviors that could facilitate COVID-19 transmission, there is limited research on the characteristics of PD messaging targeting this population on social media platforms with which youth frequently engage. This study examined social media posts created by Canadian public health entities (PHEs) with PD messaging aimed at youth and young adults aged 16–29 years and reported behavioral change techniques (BCTs) used in these posts. Methods A content analysis of all social media posts of Canadian PHEs from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube were conducted from April 1st to May 31st, 2020. Posts were classified as either implicitly or explicitly targeting youth and young adults. BCTs in social media posts were identified and classified based on Behavior Change Technique Taxonomy version 1 (BCTTv1). Frequency counts and proportions were used to describe the data. Results In total, 319 youth-targeted PD posts were identified. Over 43% of the posts originated from Ontario Regional public health units, and 36.4 and 32.6% of them were extracted from Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Only 5.3% of the total posts explicitly targeted youth. Explicit posts were most frequent from federal PHEs and posted on YouTube. Implicit posts elicited more interactions than explicit posts regardless of jurisdiction level or social media format. Three-quarters of the posts contained at least one BCT, with a greater portion of BCTs found within implicit posts (75%) than explicit posts (52.9%). The most common BCTs from explicit posts were instructions on how to perform a behavior (25.0%) and restructuring the social environment (18.8%). Conclusions There is a need for more PD messaging that explicitly targets youth. BCTs should be used when designing posts to deliver public health messages and social media platforms should be selected depending on the target population.


  • Dimanlig-Cruz, Sheryll
  • Han, Arum
  • Lancione, Samantha
  • Dewidar, Omar
  • Podinic, Irina
  • Haqani, Baies
  • Haug, Justin
  • Leonard, Lynne
  • Medline, Elaine
  • Patey, Andrea
  • Presseau, Justin
  • Thompson, Emily
  • Kent, Monique Potvin
  • Brouwers, Melissa Christine

publication date

  • December 2021