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Data-driven inferences of agency-level risk and response communication on COVID-19 through social media-based interactions

Md Ashraf Ahmed, PhD Candidate, Arif Mohaimin Sadri, PhD, M. Hadi Amini, PhD, DEng


Risk perception and risk averting behaviors of public agencies in the emergence and spread of COVID-19 can be retrieved through online social media (Twitter), and such interactions can be echoed in other information outlets. This study collected time-sensitive online social media data and analyzed patterns of health risk communication of public health and emergency agencies in the emergence and spread of novel coronavirus using data-driven methods. The major focus is toward understanding how policy-making agencies communicate risk and response information through social media during a pandemic and influence community response—ie, timing of lockdown, timing of reopening, etc.—and disease outbreak indicators—ie, number of confirmed cases and number of deaths. Twitter data of six major public organizations (1,000-4,500 tweets per organization) are collected from February 21, 2020 to June 6, 2020. Several machine learning algorithms, including dynamic topic model and sentiment analysis, are applied over time to identify the topic dynamics over the specific timeline of the pandemic. Organizations emphasized on various topics—eg, importance of wearing face mask, home quarantine, understanding the symptoms, social distancing and contact tracing, emerging community transmission, lack of personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing and medical supplies, effect of tobacco, pandemic stress management, increasing hospitalization rate, upcoming hurricane season, use of convalescent plasma for COVID-19 treatment, maintaining hygiene, and the role of healthcare podcast in different timeline. The findings can benefit emergency management, policymakers, and public health agencies to identify targeted information dissemination policies for public with diverse needs based on how local, federal, and international agencies reacted to COVID-19.


COVID-19, Twitter, social media, public organizations, interactions, historical data, policy

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