By collecting global Twitter data from the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Penn State researchers have developed a dashboard that tracks geotagged tweets to allow researchers and policymakers assess public reactions to the pandemic.
“Geotagged Twitter data provides significant opportunities to study social problems that cannot be easily addressed by traditional data,” said Guangqing Chi, associate professor of rural sociology and demography and public health sciences of the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education and director of the Penn State’s Computational and Spatial Analysis (CSA) Core.
A geotagged tweet is a tweet that includes the latitude and longitude of the location from where it was sent. The dashboard tracks the global mentions of COVID-19 via tweets in major languages including English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and others. This allows researchers to track public awareness and attention of the pandemic over time and across space.
“There are an increasing number of dashboards tracking COVID-19 cases around the world, but we do not know how communities perceive and react to COVID-19,” Chi said. “Social media data, such as geotagged tweets, allow us to track and assess the public reactions to COVID-19, doing so in real time and in different regions.”
The information can be useful for researchers to study COVID-19 related human perceptions and responses as well as for policy makers to assess when and where the public becomes concerned so that they can make informed decisions for better resource allocation and pandemic response.
Currently, the dashboard is updated twice a day. According to Chi, the frequency can be increased to hourly if needed.
In the future, the research describing the data, methodology, and potential applications will be published by the research team, which also includes CSA research associate Junjun Yin and research analyst Yosef Bodovski, both at the Population Research Institute. The team is also studying the association of tweet mentions with COVID-19 diagnostics, mobility during the pandemic, and the impacts of policy interventions.
The CSA Core and the Population Research Institute are part of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State.