Public sentiments are an important indicator of crisis response, with the need to balance exigency without adding to panic or projecting overconfidence. Given the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments have enacted various nationwide measures against the disease with social media platforms providing the previously unparalleled communication space for the global populations.
This research aims to examine and provide a macro-level narrative of the evolution of public sentiments on social media at national levels, by comparing Twitter data from India, Singapore, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States during the current pandemic.
A total of 67,363,091 Twitter posts on COVID-19 from January 28, 2020, to April 28, 2021, were analyzed from the 5 countries with “wuhan,” “corona,” “nCov,” and “covid” as search keywords. Change in sentiments (“very negative,” “negative,” “neutral or mixed,” “positive,” “very positive”) were compared between countries in connection with disease milestones and public health directives.
Country-specific assessments show that negative sentiments were predominant across all 5 countries during the initial period of the global pandemic. However, positive sentiments encompassing hope, resilience, and support arose at differing intensities across the 5 countries, particularly in Asian countries. In the next stage of the pandemic, India, Singapore, and South Korea faced escalating waves of COVID-19 cases, resulting in negative sentiments, but positive sentiments appeared simultaneously. In contrast, although negative sentiments in the United Kingdom and the United States increased substantially after the declaration of a national public emergency, strong parallel positive sentiments were slow to surface.
Our findings on sentiments across countries facing similar outbreak concerns suggest potential associations between government response actions both in terms of policy and communications, and public sentiment trends. Overall, a more concerted approach to government crisis communication appears to be associated with more stable and less volatile public sentiments over the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic.