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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Hossein Azarpanah, Business Administration

Business Analytics Research in Public Health Communication: Exploring Opportunities and Identifying Threats

Date & time
Thursday, June 6, 2024
11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Nadeem Butt



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


In an era where Web 2.0 tools like social media have become integral to daily life, offering substantial benefits and potential risks, this thesis adopts a business analytics perspective to explore the dual nature of digital platforms in public health communication. By merging data-driven and theory-driven approaches, it aims to demonstrate new opportunities for addressing public health issues such as vaccine hesitancy and health crisis management. It also examines the emerging threat of selective sharing induced by confirmation bias, which exacerbates social media polarization and contributes to vaccine hesitancy.

The first essay tackles vaccine hesitancy, a significant public health challenge that peaked during the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Through a quantitative analysis of the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System for eight years, this study addresses vaccine safety concerns as the leading concerns of vaccine-hesitant individuals by highlighting the non-severity of reported adverse events. Cognitive biases have significant roles in connecting such concerns to vaccine hesitancy. This essay identifies and categorizes fifteen cognitive biases influencing individuals’ vaccine decision-making. These findings underscore the importance of utilizing publically available data sources to mitigate vaccine safety concerns and inform public health communications strategies to counteract cognitive biases influencing vaccine hesitancy.

In two studies, the second essay delves into the role of social media in managing health crises, proposing the novel Social Media Health Crisis Management (SMHCM) model. By analyzing Canadian authorities’ use of Twitter (now X) during the COVID-19 pandemic for 13 months, study 1 demonstrates how authorities can facilitate shared situational awareness among citizens through strategic dissemination of declarative, procedural, and strategic knowledge. Study 2’s SMHCM model proposes that authorities must publish posts containing declarative, procedural, and strategic knowledge to satisfy citizens’ informational needs and propagate emotional support content to cover their emotional needs during crises, increasing user engagement. The SMHCM model fills a critical knowledge gap by explaining how authorities can use social media to manage health crises, offering insights into effective health crisis communication strategies.

The third essay explores confirmation bias-induced selective sharing among social media users engaged in vaccine discourse, revealing how selective sharing contributes to social media polarization around the vaccination topic. This essay identifies pronounced confirmation bias by analyzing over 6.6 million posts from prominent vaccine discourse participants on Twitter. It also examines the dynamics of interaction between different vaccine stance groups (anti-vaccine, pro-vaccine, and libertarian). The third essay’s findings advance our understanding of confirmation bias-induced selective sharing in the context of vaccine hesitancy and highlight the complex challenges of countering polarized opinions and fostering constructive dialogue on social media.

Overall, this thesis contributes to the business analytics and public health communication fields by offering evidence-based insights into the digital age’s opportunities and threats. It underscores the critical need for informed, strategic approaches to public health communication that consider the interplay of data and theory.

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