What have half a million social media posts told us about Australians’ feelings towards COVID-19?
Through searching for pertinent keywords on social media, TIGER C19 has tracked how public opinion about COVID-19 in Australia has changed over the course of the pandemic and helped inform public health responses.
TIGER C19 – or the Timely Integration of user-GEnerated Responses to COVID-19 – is an ongoing collaboration between Burnet Institute and the University of Melbourne, combining big data analytics of social media posts with qualitative research methods.
Using a sophisticated data analytics tool, TIGER C19 extracts posts containing selected keywords or topics from Reddit and Twitter, said Professor Robert Power AM, Co-Lead Investigator of the project.
The resulting data are then analysed by theme.
"TIGER C19 informs public health and health information responses by examining local COVID-19 related issues of current interest as both a supplement and complement to other research and intelligence.” Professor Robert Power, Burnet Institute
Currently the project is only searching for posts from Australia and concentrating on COVID-19, but Professor Power said TIGER C19 has the potential to explore a wide range of public health themes both in Australia and overseas.
Click through the following data visualisation to see how the COVID-19 keywords searched for have changed over the course of the pandemic.
Professor Power said the team select COVID-19 keywords to search for that are relevant at the time the data are being collected.
“As you can see from the data visualisation above, certain keywords - for example, lockdown, vaccines and isolation - repeat over time,” he said.
“At the time of heightened dissent against government policy words such as anti-vaxxers and protest were especially pertinent and of value.”
The researchers also sought the opinions of colleagues in academia, public health and policy to help guide their selection of keywords of the most contemporary interest.
Looking holistically at the themes that have emerged from the project so far, Professor Power said they reflect a diversity of opinion and responses across the wide range of social, economic and ethnically diverse populations we have in Australia.
One example would be the response to lockdowns and other restrictive measures, with support and opposition being equally spread across sectors of society.
“They also reflect individual and collective responses to other media and social messaging, alongside the political views of individuals and groups,” he said.
"Many of those with anti-vaccination and other views opposed to the government's strategy referred to a wide range of national and international media sources to support their positions.
“The overarching international context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Australia’s actual and perceived responses to it, clearly influenced the views and opinions expressed across our social media platforms.
"This was reflected in multiple views, such as around the efficacy of vaccination and boosters, the impact on the economy, and where advice and influence was sourced."
And what does that perhaps reveal about us?
"We are all part of a social media world that we partake in and respond to.”
Professor Robert Power, Burnet Institute
“Social media tools such as TIGER C19 are of great value in adding a significant dimension to our appreciation of community perceptions and responses to critical issues such as COVID-19," he said.
"They also help to inform public health responses.”