Top concerns of tweeters during the COVID-19 pandemic: A surveillance study

Ala Abd-Alrazaq, Dari Alhuwail, Mowafa Househ, Mounir Hai, Zubair Shah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: The recent coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is taking a toll on the world's health care infrastructure as well as the social, economic, and psychological well-being of humanity. Individuals, organizations, and governments are using social media to communicate with each other on a number of issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not much is known about the topics being shared on social media platforms relating to COVID-19. Analyzing such information can help policy makers and health care organizations assess the needs of their stakeholders and address them appropriately. Objective: This study aims to identify the main topics posted by Twitter users related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: Leveraging a set of tools (Twitter's search application programming interface (API), Tweepy Python library, and PostgreSQL database) and using a set of predefined search terms ("corona," "2019-nCov," and "COVID-19"), we extracted the text and metadata (number of likes and retweets, and user profile information including the number of followers) of public English language tweets from February 2, 2020, to March 15, 2020. We analyzed the collected tweets using word frequencies of single (unigrams) and double words (bigrams). We leveraged latent Dirichlet allocation for topic modeling to identify topics discussed in the tweets. We also performed sentiment analysis and extracted the mean number of retweets, likes, and followers for each topic and calculated the interaction rate per topic. Results: Out of approximately 2.8 million tweets included, 167,073 unique tweets from 160,829 unique users met the inclusion criteria. Our analysis identified 12 topics, which were grouped into four main themes: origin of the virus; its sources; its impact on people, countries, and the economy; and ways of mitigating the risk of infection. The mean sentiment was positive for 10 topics and negative for 2 topics (deaths caused by COVID-19 and increased racism). The mean for tweet topics of account followers ranged from 2722 (increased racism) to 13,413 (economic losses). The highest mean of likes for the tweets was 15.4 (economic loss), while the lowest was 3.94 (travel bans and warnings). Conclusions: Public health crisis response activities on the ground and online are becoming increasingly simultaneous and intertwined. Social media provides an opportunity to directly communicate health information to the public. Health systems should work on building national and international disease detection and surveillance systems through monitoring social media. There is also a need for a more proactive and agile public health presence on social media to combat the spread of fake news.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere19016
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Volume22
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

Keywords

  • 2019-ncov
  • Coronavirus, covid-19
  • Disease surveillance
  • Health informatics
  • Infodemiology
  • Infoveillance
  • Public health
  • Sars-cov-2
  • Social media
  • Twitter

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