Communicating Public Health Crisis: Mobile Social Media as a Multimodal Discourse in Times of COVID-19

Multimodal discourse analysis, critical social semiotics, public health communication, mobile social media, COVID-19


  • Ying Qi Wu
    School of Foreign Languages, Hebei Normal University for Nationalities, Chengde, China
February 9, 2023


Mobile social media have been conceptualized as a multimodal discourse that employs semiotic resources to represent public health communication in the context of the pandemic (COVID-19). This study considers Malaysia’s third COVID-19 wave in retrospect and seeks to investigate how this epidemiological crisis in Malaysia is visually communicated on mobile social media. Based primarily on Coleman’s (2010) concept of visual framing and van Leeuwen’s (2008) visual actor network, the present investigation is conducted as a qualitative inquiry from a critical social semiotic approach into 280 pictures presented on a popular WeChat Official Account in China (Weimalaysia (微大马). Much evidence is observed that visuals on mobile social media selectively emphasize certain features of the pandemic crisis in Malaysia. The findings indicate that Malaysia has an acceptable level of control over the pandemic and is generally positive in its outlook on combating COVID-19. The visual misinformation related to “intolerance” elements is not found. Findings not only testify the significance of visuals as valuable information resources in public health crisis communication but also demonstrate the effective role of WeChat official accounts, as a new mobile media discourse, in information dissemination and meaning construction on and around COVID-19.