Published on 15 Jul 2020

Study led by NTU Singapore finds global sentiments towards COVID-19 shifting from fear to anger

The fear that people developed at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak has given way to anger over the course of the pandemic, a study of global sentiments led by NTU Singapore has found.

In an analysis of over 20 million tweets in English related to the coronavirus, an international team of communication researchers observed that tweets reflecting fear, while dominant at the start of the outbreak due to the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, have tapered off over the course of the pandemic.

Xenophobia was a common theme among anger-related tweets, which progressively increased, peaking on 12 March – a day after the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. The anger then evolved to reflect feelings arising from isolation and social seclusion.

Accompanying this later shift is the emergence of tweets that show joy, which the researchers say suggested a sense of pride, gratitude, hope, and happiness. Tweets that reflected sadness doubled, although they remain proportionally lower than the other emotions.

The rapid evolution of global COVID-19 sentiments within a short period of time points to a need to address increasingly volatile emotions through strategic communication by government and health authorities, as well as responsible behaviour by netizens before they give rise to “unintended outcomes”, said Professor May O. Lwin of NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

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