A Cross-National Study of Fear Appeal Messages in YouTube Trending Videos About COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the need for investigating the prevalence and nature of health communication on social media. Applying the Extended Parallel Process Model, this study analyzes the use of fear appeals in 2,152 YouTube trending videos across six countries (the United States, Brazil, Russia, Taiwan, Canada, and New Zealand) from January to May 2020. The findings reveal that, during the early stage of the outbreak, COVID-19-themed videos gained early attention in Taiwan but encountered a prolonged delay in the United States and Brazil. Specifically, COVID-19 videos featured the least in Brazil’s trending list. The results from a supervised machine learning coding approach further suggest that videos’ threat levels exceeded efficacy beliefs across all countries. This imbalance of threat–efficacy messages was most significant in hard-hit countries Brazil and Russia, which social media may run the risk of feeding fear to the public agenda. These findings alert content creators and social media platforms to create a threat–efficacy equilibrium, prioritizing content that promotes a sense of self- and community efficacy and increases people’s belief that effective protective actions are available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAmerican Behavioral Scientist
StateE-pub ahead of print - Feb 21 2023


  • automated content analysis
  • efficacy
  • fear appeals
  • message design
  • YouTube trending videos

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)


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