How big data revealed a powerful forgotten ally in the fight against Zika.

In 2015, the Zika virus cropped up in Latin America. In doing so, it planted itself firmly in our worry-filled human minds, too.

Photo from Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images.

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that can make people very sick. It causes a variety of problems, including birth defects in unborn children.


In February 2016, the Brazilian chapter of UNICEF (the United Nations program aimed at supporting women and children in the developing world) wanted to help educate people about the disease. So they started to develop an awareness campaign.

The right message to the right people can save lives — but how do you make sure your message is right?

In most stories, this would be the place where the organization comes up with a game plan, runs it through a focus group, hires some graphic designers or copywriters, then distributes the new message. Maybe afterward, they'd do an analysis to see if they aimed right.

But in this case, that's not what UNICEF did. They suspected there might be a better way.

Before they even started on the campaign, UNICEF teamed up with Facebook to figure out who their audience for Zika actually was.

“In order to address a problem, you have to understand how the public is thinking about it," says Molly Jackman, a research manager at Facebook.

UNICEF ended up working with Facebook and another partner, ActionSprout. They pulled a bunch of anonymous, aggregated data from Brazilian Facebook, trying to find out what the public really was saying about the virus.

They ended up finding some surprising information.

One of the big secret success factors to Zika awareness? Men.

A doctor told this dad his child might be in danger because of Zika. Photo by Diego Herculano/NurPhoto.

Conventional thinking was that because everyone was talking about Zika's dangers to pregnant women, any messages about health and safety should be targeted at women. Seems obvious, yeah? But it turned out men weren't exactly being silent about it.

In fact, men were responsible for the majority of posts about Zika. Moms weren't the only ones worried about Zika's potential effect on babies. Dads were too.

UNICEF realized it had accidentally ignored this huge group of people in its messaging. So it created a post specifically aimed at engaging the dads of Brazil in fighting Zika.

Este pai quer ajudar outras famílias a conviver com a microcefalia.Quando soube que a esposa estava grávida, Felipe se...

Posted by UNICEF Brasil on Friday, 29 April 2016

Based on the Facebook analysis, UNICEF was also able to hit a couple of other areas, like preemptively reinforcing that Zika wasn't a laughing matter. They also created Q&A sessions with experts and expanded their education to other mosquito-based disease.

All this work paid off. An after-the-fact analysis showed that people who got this info were not only more engaged, aware, and more likely to take action to prevent the spread of the disease, but their results beat out a traditional campaign.

Social media is a tool that can be used for good, and this story shows that.

Like all tools, we should be mindful of how we use it, of course. But the right tool in the right hands can make a huge difference.

“Trends in the public conversation are vitally important to health organizations," says Jackman. "That information can save lives.”

The internet is a big, weird place. But it's pretty cool that in this case, we harnessed it for good.

Family
via bfmamatalk / facebook

Where did we go wrong as a society to make women feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public?

No one should feel they have the right to tell a woman when, where, and how she can breastfeed. The stigma should be placed on those who have the nerve to tell a woman feeding her child to "Cover up" or to ask "Where's your modesty?"

Breasts were made to feed babies. Yes, they also have a sexual function but anyone who has the maturity of a sixth grader knows the difference between a sexual act and feeding a child.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / JLo

The Me Too movement has shed light on just how many actresses have been placed in positions that make them feel uncomfortable. Abuse of power has been all too commonplace. Some actresses have been coerced into doing something that made them uncomfortable because they felt they couldn't say no to the director. And it's not always as flagrant as Louis C.K. masturbating in front of an up-and-coming comedian, or Harvey Weinstein forcing himself on actresses in hotel rooms.

But it's important to remember that you can always firmly put your foot down and say no. While speaking at The Hollywood Reporter's annual Actress Roundtable, Jennifer Lopez opened up about her experiences with a director who behaved inappropriately. Laura Dern, Awkwafina, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, and Renee Zellweger were also at the roundtable.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Life for a shelter dog, even if it's a comfortable shelter administered by the ASPCA with as many amenities as can be afforded, is still not the same as having the comfort and safety of a forever home. Professional violinist Martin Agee knows that and that's why he volunteers himself and his instrument to help.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

Believe
True
Macy's