Monitor the Online Spread of the Coronavirus to Understand its Global Impact

Coronavirus has become a growing topic on Social Media with 24 million posts shared in the last two months. Learn how the virus’s impact on the economy is the #2 topic discussed online.

The author(s)

  • Menaka Gopinath President, Ipsos SMX and SIA, NA
  • Laila Idtaleb Global Head of Activation, Ipsos SIA
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The coronavirus is teetering on the precipice of reaching the World Health Organization’s (WHO) classification of a pandemic and has achieved virality online. The epidemic outbreak has raised public concern, especially online, and the need for accurate public health information is stronger than ever. Currently, the new coronavirus is present in 48 countries and counting.

Information publishers, including WHO, domestic public health institutions, and news outlets, are under pressure to deliver continuous, reliable information. Social platforms have taken steps to combat fake news spread and, instead, promote validated data from websites, such as WHO. On February 26th, the US stock market recorded its worst drop in prices in two years, about 3% according to the Wall Street Journal, triggered by analysts’ fears of coronavirus. Many industries have already been negatively impacted, while others appear to be benefiting from the shift. However, across the spectrum, companies want reliable, accurate information to anticipate the impact of the crisis on their business.

People consume and share news around the clock. They talk and ask questions about the coronavirus online, therefore making social media a place where public opinion can be measured. We used Synthesio’s leading global Social Intelligence Suite to dive deeper into the spread coronavirus in online conversations.

Since Italy is the most impacted country in Europe currently, it will be our key focus for this first release. More to come soon as we continue to monitor the situation. There will be more reports soon as we continue to monitor the situation with our extensive reporting expertise.

The Coronavirus Spread Online Compared to the Spread in Affected Countries & Markets

In terms of volume of conversations, China, the center of the outbreak, is the top country on high alert. It is followed by countries less affected by the virus but are nonetheless active in sharing news and talking about the coronavirus. For example, in the UK, there was twice as much search interest in coronavirus compared to Brexit. Posts related to the coronavirus have a higher engagement rate compared to posts related to other pressing political topics. Engagement Rate measures activity across the mainstream social networks — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube — by topic, revealing how much an audience responds (likes, retweets, shares, etc.) to a given topical message. The correlation between the spread of the virus and online activities reflects social and media dynamics in developed markets.

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The volume of mentions in the US about coronavirus are now higher than China, reflecting the epidemic’s decrease in China and new potential cases popping up and the effect on the stock market in the US. The US and China are followed by countries less affected by the virus but nonetheless active in sharing news and talking about the coronavirus.

Search & Online Conversations Boom with New Cases and Deaths

Our automated analytics feature, Synthesio Signals, identified a high correlation between the volume of mentions and interactions with announcements of new deaths due to the virus. This follows the classic pattern of online virality. The shift in Italian mentions last week offers a good illustration of this viral phenomenon, with a noticeable effect in the rest of Europe due to its proximity to many countries. Italian social trends online caused a jump in mention in Europe from February 24th through 28th. The volume of mentions and interactions peaked on February 23rd and 24th in Italy, echoing the news of the outbreak.

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News Driving Social Conversation Trends and Economic Concern

In Italy, mentions and interactions are still dominated by the news media, but posts on social networks, forums, and blogs have increased steadily since the outbreak. Institutions and governments have a meager share of voice across online mentions. Interactions include all the Likes, comments, shares, retweets related to a mention. A mention is a digital post – it could be a social post or an online article, for example – that references a keyword you are monitoring.

Interestingly, the economic impact of coronavirus is the second most-mentioned topic in Italy after reactions to quarantine measures. This perception of a threat for the financial markets and the global economy was already shared by 78% of Italians before the outbreak began. The third most discussed topic is the impact of the virus on people’s mobility.

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Media Professionals and Politicians are More Vocal than Healthcare Professionals

When specifically looking at individual influencers and top posts in Italy, we see that the coronavirus is dominated by media personalities. For example, Vittorio Feltri is an Italian journalist, and Selvaggia Lucarelli is an Italian commentator. Politicians are also more amplified than healthcare professionals or experts. In Italy, physician Roberto Burioni is the most vocal infectious disease expert.

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A Deeper Dive into Online Mentions

Illustrations of top posts show that coronavirus online spreads sarcasm.

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In Italy, emojis indicating humor are still much more present than other emotions. However, usage of the mask emoji, the thinking emoji, and the red circle emoji tend to increase in a way that mirrors the path of the disease. Will sarcasm and jokes shift to concern online? Are people really unconcerned, or are the jokes a manifestation of stress? We will monitor this over time and explore this phenomenon more deeply.

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We see clearly in this analysis of the Italian case that understanding the role of news and conversations on social platforms is critical to understand the coronavirus crisis and assess its real impact on people. More to come soon! Please stay safe in the meantime and take precautions.

For more information from Ipsos on the global Coronavirus epidemic, please see the following Ipsos research below:

For more information on COVID-19 please click here​​​​​​​

The author(s)

  • Menaka Gopinath President, Ipsos SMX and SIA, NA
  • Laila Idtaleb Global Head of Activation, Ipsos SIA

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