While people were constantly washing their hands and refusing to leave their homes in early 2020 due to fear of the novel coronavirus disease, a new study based on news articles on Twitter suggests that 11 months later, the public has pushed the envelope on Covid-19 safety precautions and ignored warnings.
Researchers at the University of California-Davis investigated how Covid-19 news articles shared on Twitter were initially met with anxiety-ridden tweets early in the pandemic, during a spike in panic-buying, extreme social distancing, and quarantine measures.
Despite the increased death toll, those behaviours eventually gave way to less concerned reactions to Covid-19 news, as well as increases in societal risk-taking during that time period. The findings were reported in the Journal of Medical Internet Research and Infodemiology.
The team used a computerised methodology to analyse linguistic anxiety levels in hundreds of Covid-19 news articles on Twitter, as well as anxiety levels in corresponding user tweets, over an 11-month period. They then compared their findings to the death toll from Covid-19 in the United States.
“Our study shows a need to delve deeper into how to re-sensitise the public and motivate them to take action in the face of an ongoing emergency. Testing the effectiveness of various health-risk communication strategies could quite possibly mean the difference between life and death in the future,” said said lead author Hannah Stevens, a doctoral student from the varsity’s Department of Communication.
“If another health crisis occurred today, or Covid-19 takes another turn for the worse, it is essential for public health officials to consider that they are communicating to a desensitised public. I hope that this paper can be an impetus to get that discussion started,” she added.