As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the world, Australians tweeted about panic buying more than any other country – especially about toilet paper and limits on alcohol purchases.
A Monash University study has analysed nearly three million tweets across six countries to identify key trends associated with public attitudes towards the pandemic.
It used data from six countries – Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, the US and UK – to determine which public health measures received community support and whether public commentary offered insights into potential enablers and barriers towards community acceptance.
The researchers analysed Twitter-based discussions of public health measures, such as hand-hygiene, social distancing, travel bans and working from home during the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the absence of a vaccine, public health measures have been implemented by governments around the world to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In order for governments to maximise adherence to future public health measures and curb unnecessary behaviours, such as panic buying and spreading misinformation, researchers say clear, consistent and timely communication is paramount.
Key findings of the study included:
- Australian and Irish users perceived the issuing of frivolous fines based on ambiguous rules to be a revenue raising activity. This eroded public trust.
- Australians tweeted about panic buying more than any other country, especially about toilet paper and limits on alcohol purchases.
- Australians repeatedly referred to the decisions about non-essential service closures, specifically about the restrictions on mourners at funerals while hair salons remained open.
- New Zealand displayed the greatest acceptance of public health measures, while the US showed the lowest. That’s in spite of these countries having the most and least restrictive of public health measures respectively.
- Racially charged language and use of anti-China hashtags to signal tweets about COVID-19 were almost exclusive to the US.
- The British were most concerned with at-risk individuals such as the immuno-compromised and the elderly, while New Zealand was most concerned with vulnerable community groups such as Maori and those without stable accommodation.
- Ireland’s delay in shutting pubs and clubs for St Patrick’s Day frustrated users juggling working from home with homeschooling children.
- Anxiety and sadness were expressed in UK tweets. The availability and expense of mental health services was perceived poorly.
Machine Learning Researcher Caitlin Doogan said the Monash team used algorithms to analyse nearly three million public tweets about the implementation of public health measures.