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Storytelling the ‘superbug crisis’: storytellers, stories, and storytelling techniques in YouTube videos about antimicrobial resistance

Conference contribution
Authors Monika Djerf-Pierre
Mia Lindgren
Published in Paper presented at the 2017 IAMCR conference. Cartagena, Colombia: 16-20 July
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMG)
Centre for antibiotic resistance research, CARe
Language en
Keywords antimicrobial resistance, superbugs, YouTube, storytelling, social representations, expert knowledge, media, public understanding of science, health, social media
Subject categories Media and Communications


Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the greatest challenges facing the world in the 21st century. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics in human medicine and food production has made microbes resistant to drugs that previously provided effective cures for diseases and infections. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) AMR is ‘one of the three greatest threats to human health’ and the threat from so called ‘superbugs’ calls for increased awareness, knowledge and engagement from broad sections of society, not the least the general public. One of the strategic objectives in WHO’s global action plan to address antimicrobial resistance is to improve the public’s awareness and understanding of AMR. Experts and policymakers however struggle to effectively reach the public. In this paper, we examine how antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is represented on YouTube by employing a storytelling perspective. YouTube is an influential social media platform, reaching over a billion users worldwide. With the rapid growth of social media, YouTube is one platform providing publics with expert health knowledge. The key question is how expert knowledge about AMR is communicated and narrated on YouTube. Drawing on qualitative text analysis of the 23 most viewed YouTube videos on ‘antimicrobial resistance’, ‘antibiotic resistance’, and ‘superbugs’ in 2016, we examine the storylines, storytelling techniques, and the storytellers in videos about AMR (cf. Mendelson, 2017). Firstly, the paper explores who are the AMR storytellers on YouTube. How much of the material is user-generated and how much originates from institutional and/or professional producers? What are the producers’ goals and objectives and how is the video production funded? Secondly, we examine what aspects of the AMR problem are addressed in stories and how expert knowledge about the AMR threat is described. Finally, we address the storytelling techniques, which relates to how the stories about AMR are narrated; which narrative devises are used to describe complex AMR knowledge to lay audiences? The aim of the study is to further our understanding about how stories about antimicrobial resistance are communicated on YouTube, informing efforts to increase public awareness and understanding of this complex issue and providing new insights into the role of social media in health communication in general.

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