Is Evolving Face Mask Guidance During a Pandemic Harmful to Public Perception?: An Analysis of Sentiment and Emotion on Twitter

22 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2022

See all articles by Divya Ramjee

Divya Ramjee

American University (Washington, DC)

Catherine C. Pollack

Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

Marie Charpignon

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Shagun Gupta

University of Toronto

Jessica Malaty Rivera

The COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic

Ghinwa El Hayek

American University of Beirut

Angel Desai

International Society for Infectious Diseases

Maimuna S. Majumder

Boston Children's Hospital - Computational Health Informatics Program; Harvard University - Harvard Medical School

Date Written: April 16, 2022

Abstract

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policies on face mask usage fluctuated. This study assessed how mask sentiment evolved surrounding two policy announcements: (1) mask recommendation on April 3, 2020 and (2) relaxation on May 13, 2021. Interrupted time series methods were applied to U.S. Twitter data surrounding each policy change. Outcomes were changes in the (1) proportion of positive, negative, and neutral tweets and (2) number of words within a tweet tagged with a given emotion (e.g., trust). Results were compared to COVID-19 Twitter data without mask keywords for the same period. There were fewer neutral mask-related tweets in 2020 (β = -3.94 percentage points, 95% CI: -4.68, -3.21, P < .001) and 2021 (β = -8.74, 95% CI: -9.31, -8.17, P < .001). Following the April 3rd recommendation (β = 0.51, 95% CI: 0.43, 0.59, P < .001) and May 13th relaxation (β = 3.43, 95% CI: 1.61, 5.26, P < .001), the percent of negative mask-related tweets increased. The amount of trust-related terms decreased following the policy change on April 3 (β = -0.004, 95% CI: -0.004, -0.003, P < .001) and May 13 (β = -0.001, 95% CI: -0.002, 0, P = .008). The U.S.-Twitter population responded negatively and with less trust following policy shifts, regardless of whether the policy recommended or relaxed mask usage. Federal agencies should ensure that changes in public health recommendations are communicated concisely and rapidly.

Keywords: Face Masks, COVID-19, Twitter, Science Communication, Political Communication, Public Policy, Public Health, Sentiment Analysis, Emotion Analysis

Suggested Citation

Ramjee, Divya and Pollack, Catherine C. and Charpignon, Marie and Gupta, Shagun and Rivera, Jessica and El Hayek, Ghinwa and Desai, Angel and Majumder, Maimuna, Is Evolving Face Mask Guidance During a Pandemic Harmful to Public Perception?: An Analysis of Sentiment and Emotion on Twitter (April 16, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4085774 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4085774

Divya Ramjee (Contact Author)

American University (Washington, DC) ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

Catherine C. Pollack

Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth ( email )

Marie Charpignon

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

Shagun Gupta

University of Toronto ( email )

Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G8
Canada

Jessica Rivera

The COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic ( email )

HOME PAGE: http://https://covidtracking.com/

Ghinwa El Hayek

American University of Beirut ( email )

Beirut, 0236
Lebanon

Angel Desai

International Society for Infectious Diseases ( email )

Brookline, MA

Maimuna Majumder

Boston Children's Hospital - Computational Health Informatics Program ( email )

United States

Harvard University - Harvard Medical School ( email )

25 Shattuck St
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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