If you are a social media user, you’ve probably seen Coronavirus-related conversations going around.
Social media plays a very important role in our modern lives. It allows for individuals to have access to new information, share ideas, and interact with others worldwide. It has changed the way people live their lives today and made communication much easier. The virtual world of social media has developed to reflect life outside of the virtual world. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, conversations on social media broke out. This project examines the COVID-19 pandemic using two key social media platforms as our perspectives, Twitter and Weibo, a popular Chinese social media platform. Our Twitter data consisted of Tweets attached to #Covid19 from July 25, 2020 to August 22, 2020. On the other hand, our data from Weibo covered popular topics from January 1, 2020, to April 8, 2020. The datasets were used to analyze the content trends centered around COVID-19 and the general online activity of the users talking about it.
In order to investigate the trends on COVID-19 on social media and the online activity of the users, we posed 3 research questions:
1. How do dialogues around COVID-19 differ between social media platforms?
2. How has the COVID-19 pandemic shaped social media content?
3. How do the different characteristics of geographic regions affect their COVID-related social media activity?
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an observable increase in the use of social media from internet users aged 16 to 64, with 59% of Gen Z and 44% of Millennials (GlobalWebIndex Coronavirus Research Study, 2020). Based off of this study that revealed an increase in social media use, we were curious to find out what these social media users are talking about and if we could find out possible reasons for the increase in social media use. Additionally, another study found a positive correlation between the number of Weibo posts and Coronavirus cases in Wuhan, with around 10 more posts per 40 cases of Coronavirus (Li et al., 2020). Because this study focused on Wuhan, we wanted to see if it was the same in other geographic locations, as well as examine other factors that may have a positive correlation to social media posts. It has also been noted that people use social media for social activism, explaining how people may respond to larger crises and issues in the contemporary world and why that may be the reason for increased social media usage (Seeling, 2018). This literature highlighted social media as a powerful tool, which is why we wanted to utilize our project to investigate the ways social media is used during unprecedented times like this COVID-19 outbreak.
By examining trends regarding COVID-19 on social media and the online activity of the users, we are able to gain meaningful insight on social media as a powerful tool. More than half the world used social media in July 2020, with the average time of social media use being 2 hours and 20 minutes a day (Kemp, 2020), meaning that social media plays is a big part of people’s daily lives. Based on data gathered from Twitter and Weibo, we are able to illuminate several aspects about how the pandemic has impacted our virtual world: how online communities have responded, how sentiments have changed over time, how outside events and authorities have affected online dialogues regarding it, and how this varies within geographical locations. Through our data exploration, we are able to see how social media has become an integral part of the world we live in, shaping our perceptions on the world around us.