This study aimed to investigate the extent and key characteristics of academic research and scholarship on the public health community’s use of social media for policy advocacy purposes. This will enable an evaluation of extant research and provide insight into directions for future research.
This study was a scoping review of academic literature.
A scoping review of academic literature published between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2020 was conducted using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses framework. Boolean searches were conducted using a university library platform, which included databases, such as EBSCO host, Informit, Scopus, and ScienceDirect. Data were extracted using an a priori code frame, and publication, content, and disciplinary characteristics were analysed. The results of coding and screening comparison checks were within acceptable limits.
In total, 2672 works from around the world were identified and screened for inclusion. Twenty-two English language articles were included in the final analysis. The public health community’s use of social media for policy advocacy purposes has largely been approached from a health perspective, despite research and scholarship about social media in communication and policy disciplines (among others). Reported research aims or questions emphasised functional rather than theoretical contributions. Most analysed works used empirical or case study-based methods and were produced by authors in Western geographies. Among the health issues discussed, tobacco and tobacco control were discussed most frequently. While recognising issues with social media, most publications framed social media as more of an opportunity than a problem.
The public health community’s use of social media for policy advocacy purposes is an emerging field. There is considerable potential to expand scholarship and research in this field internationally, especially by integrating transdisciplinary knowledge and perspectives and by applying social media to foster policy change around identified global health challenges. Greater representation of authors from institutions in the Global South is also encouraged, as are applied and theoretical contributions.

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