Framing of and Attention to COVID-19 on Twitter: A Thematic Analysis of Hashtags (Preprint)
Iman Tahamtan, Devendra Potnis, Ehsan Mohammadi, Laura E. Miller, Vandana Singh
Journal of Medical Internet Research
Although past research has focused on COVID-19-related frames in the news media, such research may not accurately capture and represent the perspectives of people from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, research on the public attention to COVID-19 as reflected through frames on social media is scarce. This study identified the frames about the COVID-19 pandemic in the public discourse on Twitter, which voices diverse opinions. This study also investigated the amount of public attention to those
... frames on Twitter. We collected 22 trending hashtags related to COVID-19 in the United States and 694,582 tweets written in English containing these hashtags in March 2020 and analyzed them via thematic analysis. Public attention to these frames was measured by evaluating the amount of public engagement with frames and public adoption of those frames. We identified 9 frames including "public health guidelines," "quarantine life," "solidarity," "evidence and facts," "call for action," "politics," "post-pandemic life," "shortage panic," and "conflict." Results showed that some frames such as "call for action" are more appealing than others during a global pandemic, receiving greater public adoption and engagement. The "call for action" frame had the highest engagement score, followed by "conflict" and "evidence and facts." Additionally, "post-pandemic life" had the highest adoption score, followed by "call for action" and "shortage panic." The findings indicated that the frequency of a frame on social media does not necessarily mean greater public adoption of or engagement with the frame. This study contributes to framing theory and research by demonstrating how trending hashtags can be used as new user-generated data to identify frames on social media. This study concludes that the identified frames such as "quarantine life" and "conflict" and themes such as "isolation" and "toilet paper panic" represent the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The consequences could be (1) exclusively related to COVID-19, such as hand hygiene or isolation; (2) related to any health crisis such as social support of vulnerable groups; and (3) generic that are irrespective of COVID-19, such as homeschooling or remote working.