How has the content and appearance of the WHO Official Website (http://www.who.int/) changed over time?
The Internet has gradually become the mainstream of communication since the accessible web browsers appeared in 1993 (Naughton 2000 cited in Snee 2015). In the context of medical health, the Internet has inevitably become an important information-sharing platform. Many people rely on it to access health information, support and advice (Heaton 2011). COVID-19, a respiratory disease that broke out in late 2019 and spread rapidly across the world, has aroused high awareness within these years. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has played a very important role during the pandemic. The WHO is a global health organization created by the United Nations in 1948, which dedicated to advocating for the maintenance of public health and serving vulnerable populations globally (WHO 2021). As an authoritative and influential health organization, the actions taken by WHO in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are well worth studying by social researchers. Thus, this report will focus on the use of digital research methods to look at the WHOâ€™s official website, and in particular, the COVID-19 section that has been widely concerned since 2020.
Figure 1: Enter key words and find out the correct web address for this research (http://who.int/).
Figure 2: Choose an archived date from the calendar.
Figure 3: Two web archive that choose for the research.
This report uses the Wayback Machine as a digital research method, which is a very useful tool for researching historical versions of a website. I started by searching the Wayback Machine- Internet Archive page in Google Chrome, typing in ‘world health organization’ and clicking on the website I wanted to analyze (http://who.int/) (see Figure 1). I clicked on ‘capture(s)’ and selected two dates I wanted in the calendar that appeared afterwards (see Figure 2). As shown in Figure 3, I have selected 28 January 2020 and 28 April 2021 to compare the WHO official website page at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the more recent version respectively. With over 568 billion websites stored in the Wayback Machine, it is currently the largest web archive in the world that can be accessed by the public (Wayback Machine 2021). It provides a massive source of valuable data for social science research, allowing comparative analysis of web materials over time. Many social scientists look at the changes in web information to study the developments in a particular field over a certain period (Arora et al. 2016). It is also often used as a historical research tool by the media or online newspapers, by searching historical web pages to study what has become the past (Ben-David and Huurdeman 2014). The Wayback Machine is, therefore, a very suitable tool to study the actions of the WHO from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the changes in the appearance of web pages, and the gradual control of the pandemic by the development of new countermeasures.
Although ethical issues such as anonymity, authenticity and the protection of vulnerable groups, which often arise on social media platforms, are rarely involved in web research, there are still some points to consider. When it comes to the provider of the data, in this case, the Wayback Machine, do they have the right to archive all websites and use these data permanently? If the historical version of a webpage contains data that has been expired for too long, making some of the information inaccessible, the content that the page was intended to convey may be distorted to present a different meaning. Developers might be able to solve the out-of-date data by introducing permanent links, but this may in turn involve new data usage problems (Franzke 2020).
Figure 4: Change of the homepage title.
Figure 5: Change of the image.
Figure 6: Guideline section for COVID-19.
Figure 7: Link added in the homepage guide.
Figure 8: Change in content and guiding.
By comparing the two dates I have chosen, the WHO’s official website has several obvious changes that are worth studying. Firstly, the title of the page has changed from ‘Novel coronavirus outbreak’ to ‘Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic’ (see Figure 4), which is because the WHO only officially named this new virus on 11 February 2020, which was after the first archive I chose (WHO 2021). The people in the images on the page were all Chinese in January 2020, but more recently they included news and images from around the world (see Figure 5), as the virus slowly spread from China to the world a few months after the outbreak. Secondly, on the 2021 page, the WHO has created a guideline section for COVID-19 (see Figure 6), which was not available at the beginning of the pandemic, indicating that the pandemic has fully aroused peopleâ€™s awareness within the year. In the information guide on the home page, the updated version of the website included a link to COVID-19 in the ‘Popular’ section of ‘Health Topics’ (see Figure 7). Furthermore, click to enter to the COVID-19 page, it shows that the 2021 page is much richer than the brief introduction and overview of that in 2020, with many more detailed links added, a daily information dashboard, as well as vaccine information (see Figure 8)-it takes 6-18 months to achieve the goal of effective and safe vaccine development, and through relentless efforts, more than 200 vaccine candidates have been produced at various stages of development in 2021 (Kim and Clemens 2021). WHO has made changes to its website not only in response to the development of the COVID-19 pandemic but also because of its significance for world health. News of disease transmission can cause anxiety and inadvertently spread disinformation among people. To provide people with a reliable source of information, WHO has worked hard to identify incorrect information on pandemic prevention and to counter rumors with evidence-based information on its website and other social media platforms (Hamzah 2020). The WHO is therefore constantly updating its website with the latest news about COVID-19 and setting up a section for the pandemic to help reach more people with the right information.
The Wayback Machine is very useful as it not only archives the home page of the website, but most of the linked pages in it as well, allowing me to compare WHO’s webpage changes from different perspectives. I believe it can work well for other websites as well. In addition to the WHO website, as one of the people affected by COVID-19, I also regularly check out information about the pandemic on different social media platforms such as Twitter, BBC and Weibo. Without exception, they have all moved to disseminate the pandemic by regular boards, search links and hashtags that they are today. With over 3.8 billion people active on social media platforms worldwide, many scientists have been actively and quickly using social media to disseminate their findings on the virus since the start of the pandemic (Cuello-Garcia et al. 2020). Whether social media can furthermore help scientists study the development of the disease may be explored in future studies.
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