Chinese Public's Attention to the COVID-19 Epidemic on Social Media: Observational Descriptive Study

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Apr 22, 2020 
Zhao, Yuxin; Cheng, Sixiang; Yu, Xiaoyan; Xu, Huilan 
BACKGROUND: Since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic in China in December 2019, information and discussions about COVID-19 have spread rapidly on the internet and have quickly become the focus of worldwide attention, especially on social media. OBJECTIVE: This study aims to investigate and analyze the public's attention to events related to COVID-19 in China at the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic (December 31, 2019, to February 20, 2020) through the Sina Microblog hot search list. METHODS: We collected topics related to the COVID-19 epidemic on the Sina Microblog hot search list from December 31, 2019, to February 20, 2020, and described the trend of public attention on COVID-19 epidemic-related topics. ROST Content Mining System version 6.0 was used to analyze the collected text for word segmentation, word frequency, and sentiment analysis. We further described the hot topic keywords and sentiment trends of public attention. We used VOSviewer to implement a visual cluster analysis of hot keywords and build a social network of public opinion content. RESULTS: The study has four main findings. First, we analyzed the changing trend of the public's attention to the COVID-19 epidemic, which can be divided into three stages. Second, the hot topic keywords of public attention at each stage were slightly different. Third, the emotional tendency of the public toward the COVID-19 epidemic-related hot topics changed from negative to neutral, with negative emotions weakening and positive emotions increasing as a whole. Fourth, we divided the COVID-19 topics with the most public concern into five categories: the situation of the new cases of COVID-19 and its impact, frontline reporting of the epidemic and the measures of prevention and control, expert interpretation and discussion on the source of infection, medical services on the frontline of the epidemic, and focus on the worldwide epidemic and the search for suspected cases. CONCLUSIONS: Our study found that social media (eg, Sina Microblog) can be used to measure public attention toward public health emergencies. During the epidemic of the novel coronavirus, a large amount of information about the COVID-19 epidemic was disseminated on Sina Microblog and received widespread public attention. We have learned about the hotspots of public concern regarding the COVID-19 epidemic. These findings can help the government and health departments better communicate with the public on health and translate public health needs into practice to create targeted measures to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19.
#sina microblog
#public attention
#public health emergency
#social media

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