The Ebola outbreak

Research project
Inactive research
Project owner
The Department of Journalism, Media and Communication

The Swedish Civil Contingency Agency (MSB)

Short description

A study of the Ebola outbreak, 2014, in Swedish news media and social media.

The Ebola epidemic, which began in West Africa in late 2013 and eight months later had reached three continents, was the most serious outbreak since the virus was discovered in 1976. From the first reported death in Guinea in December 2013 to January 2015, when the spread of the infection declined, about 22,000 suspected cases of infection and over 8,900 deaths were registered.

By June 2014, a few cases of Ebola had spread to the US and Europe, primarily through infected aid workers. On January 3, 2015 a Swedish nurse returning from Sierra Leone showed symptoms of Ebola, but tests proved that she did not carry the disease. On January 15, a Swedish aid worker was sent home, also from Sierra Leone, after the death of a colleague, who was resident at the scene. The Swede showed no symptoms. On January 22, a third Swede with suspected Ebola infection was taken home from Sierra Leone. Neither this person turned out to be infected.

Media of various kinds influenced how people perceived the Ebola infection, its spread, risk and mortality, as well as their attitudes and behaviour in relation to the risk of infection. The epidemic was widely reported in the Swedish news media. But also in social media information, experience, rumours and fears about the spread of infection was extensively exchanged.

The current Ebola study includes an empirical investigation of how the infection was reported in central Swedish news media, and discussed in social media. The time period for the empirical analysis is 1 August 2104 to 31 January 2015, a total of six months. The project comprises three separate sub-studies:

A. The spread of the Ebola infection in 2014

The case study includes a reconstruction, independent from news media and social media content, of the infectious outbreak and its spread on the African continent, and from there to other countries around the world.

B. Quantitative content analysis of the news media coverage of Ebola

Case study B is a quantitative content analysis of how the leading Swedish quality newspaper, the tabloid newspaper, the TV news programme and the radio news programme reported on the Ebola outbreak and its spreading from Africa to Europe and Sweden.

C. Opinion-making about the Ebola infection

Case study C analyses how the Swedish public discussed and assessed the risks associated with Ebola infection in social media, and how the content in social media relates to the content in news media.

Participating in the project are:

Marina Ghersetti (Professor), Project Manager

Thomas Oden (Associated Professor)

Pavel Rodin (Doctoral student)



The project was concluded with the publication of the report:

Ghersetti, Marina; Odén, Tomas och Rodin, Pavel (2018). Ebolahotet. Bilden av en smitta i nyheter, sociala medier och i myndigheternas kriskommunikation. Stockholm: MSB.