Geeta Lobo, Head of Social Intelligence Analytics, Ipsos in India, analyses, in light of general awareness of an imminent threat, social conversations on Coronavirus in India. On invitation and exclusively for Mediabrief.com
A fifth of the world’s population is under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. 1.5 million are infected and the fatalities will soon breach a hundred thousand. And yet the gravity of this crisis has dawned on us Indians only now. This write up provides analyses on social conversations related to Covid-19.
Indians first took notice of the Coronavirus epidemic in China late in January 2020, when Indian government stepped in to evacuate its citizens stranded in Wuhan. The conversation then went into a lull all through February. Local events like CAA protests and the Delhi riots pushed the Covid-19 issue out of the Indian mind space.
After a gap of four weeks the issue gained attention again when PM Modi called off his Holi-Milan engagements.
Early in March the crisis spread through the world and was declared a Pandemic by the WHO. The very next day, India recorded its first fatality. Conversations surged to a new high in following days. But it was the ‘Janata curfew’ announcement and the lockdown that followed that pushed the conversation volumes to its crescendo.
Though the Covid-19 crisis had been trending in the mainstream media from mid-January, it is only in the recent weeks that ii has drawn the spotlight it deserves. The volume of conversations in the past fortnight is nearly twice as much as the entire period of three and half months preceding it.
This becomes even more clear when we compare the trend of mainstream media reports on Covid-19 with the trend of social conversations. The early peak was clearly in response to informal sources of information. Early in March, the conversations seemed to be responding to mainstream reporting. Since the lockdown announcement, the social chatter has taken off and is not driven only by the mainstream news reporting. It is only with the imposition of a lockdown that the magnitude of the crisis has really dawned upon us.
Key conversation topics
Conversation at present is dominated by remarks and opinions on the lockdown and Janata curfew. Topics seen in the previous round like China, Government health measures, travel, masks & sanitizer continue to trend. Newer topics relate to all the incidents and contingencies brought about the lockdown. The impact of the lockdown on life has prompted a lot of conversation on availability of groceries, working from home, remote learning and postponement of exams. People have also shared their views on incidents like the migrant crisis, police excesses during the lockdown and the Nizamuddin contagion.
In the recent weeks, social conversations have taken on a trend that do not seem to be propelled by mainstream news reporting. Comparison of key topics between these two data sources makes this clearer. Media reports by their very nature have a wider coverage of issues and one would have expected to see volumes on most topics to be higher from mainstream media. But there is a sharp difference in the topics that dominate mainstream news reporting and social conversations. Mainstream volumes are skewed towards government health measures and information on medical facilities and readiness of the health infrastructure to tackle the crisis. Social conversations have been focussed on the lockdown situation.
Examination of sentiments expressed in these conversations shows the variation in public opinion across different topics. Most of the conversations were largely sharing of news and developments, therefore neutral sentiment tends to dominate. Analysis of the non–neutral conversations (Fig 7) can reveal both the extent to which the topics have evoked an emotional reaction (engagement ) and the valence of these emotions. This analysis shows that that people have responded positively to the lockdown situation and are coping well with working from home, are quite concerned about the impact on education and have had mixed experiences with procuring groceries. Nizamuddin contagion and the migrant crisis expectedly evoked negative reactions. Comments on China continue to be adverse. The mixed sentiment on the “ThaliBajao” occasion (Plate banging – appreciation for medicos on March 22nd ) is somewhat unexpected.
The announcement of the lockdown and one day curfew prior to that mainly drew appreciation. It invoked a sense of solidarity against an indiscernible enemy. The conversations were mainly citizens urging each other to abide by the regulations imposed and in effect relaying the message conveyed by the Prime Minister.
There were a few comments of relating the current situation in India to one that Kashmiris were enduring for a long time and some voiced concerns for the daily wage earners.
‘Thali-bajao’ – appreciation for medicos
The five–minute ovation for medicos on the day of Janata curfew drew mixed responses, though it was the topic that evoked the highest emotional engagement.
Many of the comments were emotional tributes to the medical professionals and others who kept the citizens secure in such times of crises. The negative comments related to the anger and utter disbelief at the processions seen in some parts of the country, which defeated the very objective of the curfew. There were comments from some vigilantes who observed people in their communities and neighbourhood flout the regulations.
Coping with the lockdown
Lockdown also meant that people had to rapidly adjust to the restriction imposed and many were ill-prepared. This evoked some panic about access to groceries and other necessities. There were many complaints about delivery issues and profiteering. People also reported how they were coping with working from home and many of these comments were positive and laced with humour. Conversations about education were mainly about postponement of exams and related concerns.
Perceptions about China
Though the lockdown brought the focus of conversation closer home, comments relating to China continued to build up. Most of these were adverse and lay the blame of the pandemic on China. There was also some alarm at the reports of a Hantavirus epidemic originating from China.
In Sum: Threat Perception
By analysing the tone and content of these topics we can also infer the perceived severity of the crisis and the proximity of the impact. The severity ranges from low, in case of topics such as working from home, to near critical in case of many of the comments about China.
The lockdown has brought a distant vaguely perceived issue right to our doorsteps. The panic sensed in the comments relating to the availability of necessities is an evidence of this. However, there are no topics yet where a personal impact is severe or critical.
The success of the containment in the coming weeks and months will be reflected in social conversation staying in the guarded to elevated threat zone, and not moving to a zone where clear and present danger is sensed.