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People showing less concerned reactions to Covid-19 news, a new study based on news articles on Twitter suggests

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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.


About the author

Brendan Byrne

While studying economics, Brendan found himself comfortably falling down the rabbit hole of restaurant work, ultimately opening a consulting business and working as a private wine buyer. On a whim, he moved to China, and in his first week following a triumphant pub quiz victory, he found himself bleeding on the floor based on his arrogance. The same man who put him there offered him a job lecturing for the University of Wales in various sister universities throughout the Middle Kingdom. While primarily lecturing in descriptive and comparative statistics, Brendan simultaneously earned an Msc in Banking and International Finance from the University of Wales-Bangor. He's presently doing something he hates, respecting French people. Well, two, his wife and her mother in the lovely town of Antigua, Guatemala.

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