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COVID-19 still featuring on social media radar

Burnet Institute

17 May, 2022

The TIGER C19 project – Timely Integration of user-GEnerated Responses to C19 – has combined big data analytics of selected COVID-19 keywords and themes from Reddit and Twitter since the onset of COVID-19. The latest report shows COVID-19 themes continue to be discussed online, but less frequently.

Burnet Lead Consultant and co-author Professor Robert Power AM said the latest tracking returned less than 10,000 hits, reflecting a recent trend noted by public health professionals and commentators the the pandemic is no longer at the forefront of popular media attention.

“Nonetheless, there is still an active social media debate on COVID as indicated by the collation and analysis of Twitter and Reddit posts from 29 April 2022,” Professor Power said.

For this round, the project focused on five separate keywords relating to current COVID-19-related issues – ‘booster’, ‘election’, ‘travel’, ‘Long Covid’, and ‘Covid Normal’.

Notably, there were far less references to news coverage and postings of URLs (web page addresses) relating to COVID. Additionally, posts across social media platforms have noted that debate and commentary on the COVID pandemic was almost entirely absent from the election debate, with some posts suggesting avoidance of the topic or that major parties considered it too contentious to receive airtime.

What online users think of ‘COVID Normal

The notion of ‘COVID Normal’ appeared regularly in posts. Some viewed it as rhetoric and semantics, conceived as a means to shift emphasis away from the pandemic as a problem. Others saw it as an electioneering tool, one that both reflected and cemented emerging public sentiment.

Another stream of debate focused on ‘COVID Normal’ as a descriptor of the shift of emphasis from public health, to the economy– a means to encourage people to return to the workplace. On a more positive note, a number of posts welcomed the concept and the subsequent easing of restrictions that led to the enjoyment of social and community events, such as those related to ANZAC Day (25 April).

‘COVID Normal’ has led to freer movement and overseas travel. There were many accounts of travel as a cathartic and positive experience after multiple lockdowns and restrictions. Alongside these were the hopes from travel businesses and academic institutions that their customer base would increase and overseas students would begin to return to Australia.

On the negative side were narratives of delays and cancellations due to reduced workforce at travel hubs, and an emerging concern that unfettered travel may result in new COVID variants and potential lockdowns.

There was ongoing discussion around the vaccine booster program, with mixed feelings concerning choice and pressure to conform, especially regarding the need for continuous boosters into the future and mandatory vaccination for certain sections of the workforce.

‘Long COVID’, an emerging theme

Professor Power observed that ‘Long COVID' has emerged as a topic on social media platforms. “One prominent theme centred on perceived problems linked to rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines with limited understanding of their long-term side effects,” he said.

“Another theme highlighted the positive impact of ‘Long COVID’ being taken seriously, leading to research, education and support for those affected by it and similar conditions, such as autoimmune diseases.”

Others noted the extent and spread of ‘Long COVID’ fear as a potential reason and rationale to promote and maintain public health measures to reduce the spread of infection.

Despite the pandemic seeming to be deemed less newsworthy, the popular debate continues overall, as evidenced by TIGER C19’s scoping of prominent social media platforms.

Read the full TIGER C19 report.

TIGER C19 is a collaboration between Burnet Institute and The University of Melbourne. Since its inception, it has tracked an average of around 30,000 data hits (posts and reposts) per month.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Robert Power AM

Project Consultant, Fleming Fund Program Director

Telephone

+61392822169

Email

robert.power@burnet.edu.au

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