Assessment of Public Attention, Risk Perception, Emotional and Behavioural Responses to the COVID-19 Outbreak: Social Media Surveillance in China
22 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2020More...
Background: Using social media surveillance data, this study aimed to assess public attention and awareness, risk perception, emotion, and behavioural response to the COVID-19 outbreak in real time.
Methods: We collected social media data from the three most popular platforms in China: Sina Weibo (microblog), Baidu search engine, and Ali e-commerce marketplace, from the beginning of the outbreak, 1 Dec 2019, to 15 Feb 2020. Quantitative behavioural data including Weibo post counts, Weibo Hot Search ranking, and Baidu searches were used to generate indices assessing public attention and awareness. Public intention and actual adoption of recommended personal protection measures (e.g. hand sanitisers) or panic buying triggered by rumours and misinformation (e.g. garlics) were measured by Baidu and Ali indices. Correlation analysis was performed to detect consistency among the three indices. Qualitative data from Weibo posts were collected and analysed by the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) text analysis programme to assess public emotion responses to epidemiological events, governments’ announcements, and epidemic control measures.
Findings: We identified two missed windows of opportunity for early epidemic control during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, one in Dec 2019 and the other between 31 Dec and 19 Jan, when public attention and awareness was very low despite the emerging outbreak. Delayed release of information ignited negative public emotions. The public responded quickly to government announcements and adopted recommended behaviours according to issued guidelines. We found rumours and misinformation regarding remedies and cures led to panic buying during the outbreak, and timely clarification of rumours effectively reduced irrational behaviour.
Interpretation: Social media surveillance can enable timely assessments of public reaction to risk communication and epidemic control measures, and the immediate clarification of rumours. This should be fully incorporated into epidemic preparedness and response systems.
Funding Statement: Z.H. acknowledges financial support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 71874034)
Declaration of Interests: The authors have no conflict of interest.
Ethics Approval Statement: All data are publicly available.
Keywords: COVID-19, social media, public response, emotion, behaviour, rumour
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