Digital and computation approaches to study determinants and consequences of the spread of COVID-19

Webinar, 8 July 2020


The objective of this webinar was to present ongoing research using data from social and digital media to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on demographic behaviours and above all to stimulate discussion about new forms of data collection using digital media and computational methods. The presentations fell into three categories. 


The first set of talks focused on using social media, primarily Facebook (FB), to recruit survey participants. Nadia Diamond Smith presented results of an ongoing FB panel survey in India to understand the impacts of COVID on reproductive health decision making. Jorge Cimentada explored more in-depth the issue of the representativeness of respondents to social media surveys compared to the general population. 


The second set of presentations explored issues of trust and mistrust in those accessing health information via social media. Ridhi Kashyap looked at how the public’s reliance on experts shifted during the COVID epidemic in Italy using digital trace data from Twitter and Telegram, combined with a survey experiment on Facebook, revealing that trust in public health experts declined as the pandemic progressed.  Yelena Mejova examined Facebook Ads from the FB Ad library, finding that questionable information on the COVID pandemic from advertisers is competing with accurate public health information. 


The third set of talks focused on the use of digital trace data to understand geographic mobility and its impact on COVID-19 and related mortality.  Michele Tissoni provided an overview of the methods and data sets used to measure mobility changes with mobile phone data in Italy during the COVID pandemic in January-March 2020. Ingmar Weber presented an overview of Google Maps to monitor mobility, and show how others might use this data, as well as covering some of its limitations. Ugofilippo Basellini presented work using Google Mobility Reports to quantify the impact of stay-at-home efforts to reduce excess mortality, finding that stay-at-home measures averted approximately 130,000 excess deaths in England and Wales in the spring of 2020. 


The webinar ended with a lively discussion animated by questions from the Q&A.  The webinar included 202 attendees joining from 44 countries.  Many thanks to Emilio Zagheni for organizing this webinar on behalf of the IUSSP Panel on Digital Demography. 


The webinar programme, video recording and Q&A are available below. 


Digital and computational approaches to study determinants and consequences of the spread of COVID-19

Wednesday 8 July 2020

15:30 - 17:00 Paris | 13:30 - 15:00 UTC
9:30 - 11:00 New York | 19:00 - 20:30 New Delhi

  • Webinar recording:

Description: What can Digital and Computational approaches reveal about the relationships between mortality, fertility, mobility, and the spread of COVID-19? Through focused lighting talks, an expert panel of computational scientists tackles issues that include running Facebook surveys to study reproductive health, behavioral change and trust, as well as using digital trace data to understand misinformation, patterns of spatial mobility and their impact on infections and on mortality. This webinar is organized by the IUSSP Panel on Digital Demography


Format: A series of lightning talks (6 minutes each), followed by general discussion and Q&A. 


     Emilio Zagheni 

     (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research-MPIDR) 



Nadia Diamond-Smith   (University of California at San Francisco)

Facebook Ads for panel data in the era of COVID-19: The gendered impacts of COVID-19 on reproductive health care access and use in India


Jorge Cimentada (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research-MPIDR)
Can we trust social media surveys? Insights from a dynamic COVID survey


Ridhi Kashyap (Oxford University)

Reliance on scientists and experts during the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy


Yelena Mejova (ISI Foundation)
COVID-19 on Facebook Ads: Competing Agendas around a Public Health Crisis


Michele Tizzoni  (ISI Foundation)
Measuring mobility changes in Italy during the COVID-19 outbreak with mobile phone data


Ingmar Weber (Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) Hamad Bin Khalifa University)
Using live information from Google Maps to monitor mobility trends


Ugofilippo Basellini (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research-MPIDR)
Leveraging Google Mobility Reports to assess the effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on excess mortality in England and Wales