- Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) released the results of a study examining whether e-scooter company Bird promotes safety on social media, concluding that the mobility company does not.
- The team examined Bird's Instagram posts from Sept. 22, 2017 through Nov. 8, 2018 and found that about 69% of all posts had a person visible with a Bird scooter, 6.2% of the posts showed scooter users wearing protective gear such as helmets or knee pads and 6.7% had protective gear visible somewhere in the photo. Only 1.5% of posts mentioned protective gear in the comment area.
- The study offered the recommendation: "Public health practitioners may need to establish interventions to promote use of protective gear while operating e-scooters."
This study is another example of the attention that e-scooters have been getting for safety practices, or perhaps the lack thereof. Scooter services are in their infancy, having only been around in the United States for about a year-and-a-half, but already some mobility companies have faced accusations of essentially releasing scooters onto cities' streets without proper educational campaigns for safe riding.
City leaders and the public alike have voiced skepticism about scooter safety as reports of injuries, and even deaths, related to scooter use mount. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has partnered with Austin, TX on an epidemiological study of scooter use and related injuries.
The USC researchers' recommendation that public health practitioners get involved to promote protective gear use is rather interesting. Thus far — prior to the CDC study announcement — mobility companies have been the prime entity responsible for scooter safety, with municipalities secondarily holding responsibility for devising policies governing safe ridership. The study suggestion pushes the public to think outside the box and find ways to share the responsibility for safety among the greater community.
The study raises interesting points about how mobility companies may or may not promote scooter safety, but its methodology falls short on being able to draw industry-wide conclusions. The authors themselves acknowledged some of the limitations of the study in the write-up.
First, the study only examined Bird, not the numerous other competitors offering scooter services. In Austin alone, where the CDC study is taking place, six operators have scooters on the streets. Second, the USC study only looked at Bird's Instagram account and not any other forms of social media. It is plausible that Bird promotes safety more often on its other social media platforms. Third, of the Instagram posts that the researchers studied, about 69% were re-posts from other Instagram users and did not originate with Bird.
While the case could be made that Bird should only repost photos featuring safety gear, it's worth noting that the company itself did not create more than two-thirds of the photos displayed on its Instagram. That point also relates to the second methodological shortcoming, in that Bird might prominently feature safety gear on social media platforms where it primarily makes original posts and not re-posts, such as Facebook.
Far more extensive studies must be conducted before definitively declaring whether mobility companies do or do not promote safe scooter riding through their social media posts.