The COVID-19 pandemic changed expectations for information dissemination and use around the globe, challenging accepted models of communications, leadership, and social systems. We explore how social media discourse about COVID-19 in Italy was affected by the rapid spread of the virus, and how themes in postings changed with the adoption of social distancing measures and non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI). We used topic modeling and social network analysis to highlight critical dimensions of conversations around COVID-19: 1) topics in social media postings about the Coronavirus; 2) the scope and reach of social networks; and 3) changes in social media content as the nation moved from partial to full social distancing. Twitter messages sent in Italy between February 11th and March 10th, 2020. 74,306 Tweets sent by institutions, news sources, elected officials, scientists and social media influencers. Messages were retweeted more than 1.2 million times globally. Non-parametric chi-square statistic with residual analysis to identify categories, chi-square test for linear trend, and Social Network Graphing. The first phase of the pandemic was dominated by social media influencers, followed by a focus on the economic consequences of the virus and placing blame on immigrants. As the crisis deepened, science-based themes began to predominate, with a focus on reducing the spread of the virus through physical distancing and business closures Our findings highlight the importance of messaging in social media in gaining the public’s trust and engagement during a pandemic. This requires credible scientific voices to garner public support for effective mitigation. Fighting the spread of an infectious disease goes hand in hand with stemming the dissemination of lies, bad science, and misdirection.
- Non-pharmacological interventions
- Social media