Understanding what social media posts reveal about public sentiment relating to COVID-19 and its impact on the Australian community is an important goal of a Burnet Institute collaboration with the University of Melbourne.
The Timely Integration of User Generated Responses about C19 (TIGER C19) project uses sophisticated data analytics to extract posts containing selected key words from two social media platforms: Twitter and Reddit.
The data are then subjected to qualitative thematic analyses providing real-time insights into local issues of current interest relating to COVID-19.
The aim is to inform public health and health information responses, and to support related research, including Burnet’s Optimise study.
TIGER C19 Co-Lead, Professor Robert Power, said the research has so far cast fresh light on public attitudes to a broad range of subjects including border control, the economy, vaccine hesitancy, blood clotting, and particular vaccines, notably AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
“Vaccine hesitancy is a salient issue, because people’s discussions around hesitancy have shifted,” Professor Power said.
“There was a lot of initial fear around blood clotting, then concern emerged about the viability of information, so there was a shift in the debate, which is clearly influenced by the media itself, and by political debate.
“What we’re providing is another strand to our understanding of the popular feeling on critical health issues. As TIGER C19 is showing, exploring social media is one very powerful way of doing that.”
As well as social media monitoring, TIGER C19 identifies the top 20 sources people are searching on any given topic, to get a sense where people are getting their information from.
Project Co-Lead, Dr Marc Cheong, a Senior Fellow at Melbourne University’s Centre for AI and Digital Ethics, said that while TIGER C19’s focus is on Melbourne and Victoria, the emerging themes have broader resonance and application to other jurisdictions in Australia and overseas.
“TIGER C19 shows how data scientists can work together with social behavioural researchers to provide a holistic overview that tracks responses to important health issues such as COVID-C19,” Dr Cheong said.
TIGER C19 is ongoing and will produce regular, real-time reports, the first two of which are available here.