Rise and fall of the global conversation and shifting sentiments during the COVID-19 pandemic

by XiangliangZhang, Qiang Yang, Somayah Albaradei, Xiaoting Lyu, Hind Alamro, Adil Salhi, Changsheng Ma, Manal Alshehri, Inji Ibrahim Jaber, Faroug Tifratene, Wei Wang, Takashi Gojobori, Carlos M. Duarte, Xin Gao
Research article Year: 2021 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-021-00798-7


Zhang, X., Yang, Q., Albaradei, S., Lyu, X., Alamro, H., Salhi, A., Duarte, C.M., ... & Gao, X. (2021). Rise and fall of the global conversation and shifting sentiments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications8(1), 1-10.


Social media (e.g., Twitter) has been an extremely popular tool for public health surveillance. The novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the first pandemic experienced by a world connected through the internet. We analyzed 105+ million tweets collected between March 1 and May 15, 2020, and Weibo messages compiled between January 20 and May 15, 2020, covering six languages (English, Spanish, Arabic, French, Italian, and Chinese) and represented an estimated 2.4 billion citizens worldwide. To examine fine-grained emotions during a pandemic, we built machine learning classification models based on deep learning language models to identify emotions in social media conversations about COVID-19, including positive expressions (optimistic, thankful, and empathetic), negative expressions (pessimistic, anxious, sad, annoyed, and denial), and a complicated expression, joking, which has not been explored before. Our analysis indicates a rapid increase and a slow decline in the volume of social media conversations regarding the pandemic in all six languages. The upsurge was triggered by a combination of economic collapse and confinement measures across the regions to which all the six languages belonged except for Chinese, where only the latter drove conversations. Tweets in all analyzed languages conveyed remarkably similar emotional states as the epidemic was elevated to pandemic status, including feelings dominated by a mixture of joking with anxious/pessimistic/annoyed as the volume of conversation surged and shifted to a general increase in positive states (optimisticthankful, and empathetic), the strongest being expressed in Arabic tweets, as the pandemic came under control.