The effect of spokesperson attribution on public health message sharing during the COVID-19 pandemic

Ahmad Abu-Akel, Andreas Spitz, Robert West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is urgent to understand how to effectively communicate public health messages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous work has focused on how to formulate messages in terms of style and content, rather than on who should send them. In particular, little is known about the impact of spokesperson selection on message propagation during times of crisis. We report on the effectiveness of different public figures at promoting social distancing among 12,194 respondents from six countries that were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic at the time of data collection. Across countries and demographic strata, immunology expert Dr. Anthony Fauci achieved the highest level of respondents’ willingness to reshare a call to social distancing, followed by a government spokesperson. Celebrity spokespersons were least effective. The likelihood of message resharing increased with age and when respondents expressed positive sentiments towards the spokesperson. These results contribute to the development of evidence-based knowledge regarding the effectiveness of prominent official and non-official public figures in communicating public health messaging in times of crisis. Our findings serve as a reminder that scientific experts and governments should not underestimate their power to inform and persuade in times of crisis and underscore the crucial importance of selecting the most effective messenger in propagating messages of lifesaving information during a pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0245100
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Abu-Akel et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination
  • Pandemics
  • Physical Distancing
  • Public Health
  • SARS-CoV-2/isolation & purification
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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