☘️ Irish Twitter Reaction to Covid-19

Kieran Fraser
6 min readMar 15, 2020

A brief analysis/visualisation of Ireland’s reaction to Covid-19 as it happened on Twitter.

Background

The Coronavirus is an infectious disease which originated in Wuhan, China late last year¹. The infection has since become widespread².

The coverage of the infection was reported in Irish media outlets as early as mid January³⁴, but only really started blowing up on social media in Ireland when the virus started spreading to Europe, as demonstrated below.

CSSE at John Hopkins University²

The Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University have collected, consolidated, visualised and released data on the spread of the virus worldwide². I have augmented this data with tweets made by users in Ireland since February in order to ascertain a local reaction to the virus as it spread closer to home.

To achieve this, I used the GetOldTweets3 python library⁵ to query for tweets with ‘coronavirus’ or ‘covid19’, while also restricting the geolocation parameters to the island of Ireland. After collecting the tweets, I extracted sentiment and topics from the text to provide additional features to visualise. I used an additional clickbait⁶ classifier to identify tweets which were potentially using Covid-19 to increase engagement metrics.

Visualisations

The charts below illustrate how the number of confirmed cases of covid-19 has grown since January, both globally and in Ireland. The CSSE reports the first confirmed case in the Republic of Ireland on February 29th⁷, although the first confirmed case on the Island of Ireland was reported on February 27th⁸. Tweets in Ireland regarding the virus were relatively low up until the first reported case on the island. The day after the first confirmed case in the Republic, tweets from Irish users grew exponentially, with latest figures suggesting 8,000 tweets daily on the subject.

The additional features extracted from the text content suggest that the vast majority of tweets are neutral, if slightly positive, in sentiment and are not overly associated with clickbait. Naturally there are outliers in both cases. This suggests Irish tweets remain positive and hopeful in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. While maintaining a calm attitude throughout this period is essential for overcoming Covid-19, people should not become overly nonchalant⁹, particularly with respect to the restrictions (e.g. social distancing) put in place by authorities to help stem the spread of the virus.

Features extracted using NLP techniques on the text content of Irish Tweets regarding Covid-19

Topics were also extracted from the text of the tweets in order to ascertain what people were tweeting about when mentioning the virus. The Word Cloud below briefly visualises the top topics extracted. Naturally, health and wellness feature strongly. But note also that topics such as travel, education, parenting and politics also make appearances. This is no surprise due to government policies regarding school/university closures¹⁰ put in place in Ireland over recent days and the restricted travel plans implemented all over the world¹¹. Additionally, science is prominent as the search for treatments¹² continue and the appearance of entertainment and sports is a reference toward the suspension of events¹³ taking place in an effort to reduce mass gatherings and restrict the spread of the virus.

Diving deeper into the content of tweets collected, the following GIF illustrates the words prominent in Irish tweets on a day-by-day basis since January. Notice how in early January, the tweets concentrated on Wuhan in China, where the virus originated. As the dates roll by and the virus spreads closer to Europe and Ireland, other words which describe the events that transpired jump out. Such as: travel, Italy, universities, school, HSE, St Patrick. Additionally, when inspecting all tweets since January, words such as time, symptom, wash hands and advice allude to some of the information being released to the public to try and slow the spread of the virus. Work and home suggest the transitions made by businesses to work remotely during the outbreak.

Left: Words prominent in Irish tweets day-by-day since January; Right: Most prominent words in Irish tweets regarding Covid-19 since January

Sentiment analysis of the most common words extracted from Irish tweets regarding Covid-19 illustrate both the frustration felt by the Irish community toward the virus outbreak, but also the kindness and courage shown by the nation in the face of this pandemic. Fears over sick pay clearly emerge among tweets with negative sentiment while advice and help are prominent in tweets with positive sentiment.

Common words extracted from negative (left) and positive (right) Irish tweets regarding Covid-19

The following charts (adapted from here) visualise which words/topics have appeared most in Irish tweets regarding Covid-19 from mid-January to mid-March. Notice again how the tweets begin by referencing events further afield in China, but in mid to late February, highlight local events as the virus outbreak spreads first to Europe and on to Ireland. China is the most frequent occurring word before being overtaken by school on March 1st as events due to Covid-19 here win the attention of Irish twitter users. Naturally, healthy living and wellness are the top topics for tweets regarding Covid-19 throughout the period, but notice how travel, parenting, business and entertainment evolve as each domain is affected, directly or indirectly due to policies implemented by authorities seeking to slow the spread of the virus (e.g. travel restrictions, school/business closures and canceled events).

Finally, an analysis of more than just single words yields further insights into the tweets made by Irish users regarding Covid-19. The following charts illustrate the phrases (trigrams) appearing most frequently. Naturally, the cancellation of St. Patrick’s Day festivities due to Covid-19 was a big story here as was the closure of schools and universities.

Final Word

Finally, a number of stats on the top Irish tweets regarding Covid-19 over the past number of months:

References

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