As the news of Coronavirus epidemic struck the globe and people were given horrific stories, many took to their social media to get more insight of the same. Some randomly went on rendering tips and tricks to avoid getting infected. To my surprise, there are random posts showing some worms coming out of lips and ears as Coronavirus. Their Indian Babas who over night became Corona babas is not only selling remedies but also assuring the elimination of the virus. Some are selling naturopathic sterilisers and sanitisers while some are selling Ayurveda home-made masks. The panic news telecast gave big market to people. From performing some rituals to chanting some mantras, Corona has given everyone a business. People are using the internet to share information, air their anxieties and bide time while in quarantine. The moments when those online conversations light up also tell us a lot about how our feelings around the pandemic are surfacing. Posts are circulating false and misleading tips on social media, in some cases wrongly attributed to various organisations about how people can monitor and avoid the Coronavirus.
Mentions of ‘Coronavirus’ across social platforms and news media really started to take off in early February. That was after the first Coronavirus case of unknown origin also known as community spread, emerged in the United States. That case involved a patient in California who contracted Coronavirus but had neither travelled somewhere where the virus was present nor was he knowingly exposed to someone who had contracted the virus. At around the same time, South Korean pop band and social media sensation BTS announced that it was cancelling its tour stops due to the Coronavirus and urged their fans to donate to relief efforts. After that, videos got circulated about people selling or eating bats. On social media, there were many videos in circulation since news broke of the Coronavirus outbreak in China with claims that bats are a possible origin of the new virus. None of the videos had any documented link to the outbreak.
Some of the videos show people having soup made from bat meat while others claimed to show the mammal for sale in the seafood market in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province which scientists have suggested as a possible source of the virus. People took to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and much common on WhatsApp to express their disgust at the idea of eating bats. Some claimed that certain Chinese people eat raw bat and rat meat. Some videos did also show where snake and dog meat was sold. The videos were awful and horrific but the circulation was in billions. The typical market in China has butchered beef, pork and lamb, whole plucked chickens with heads and beaks attached and live crabs and fish spewing water out of churning tanks. Some sell more unusual fare including live snakes, turtles and cicadas, guinea pigs, bamboo rats, badgers, hedgehogs, otters, palm civets and even wolf cubs.
The markets are fixtures in scores of Chinese cities and now, for at least the second time in two decades, they are the source of an epidemic that has spread fear.
With 19 million mentions across social media and news sites related to COVID-19 in the past 24 hours alone around the world, it’s clear that Coronavirus is the first global pandemic that is unfolding on social media with unprecedented volumes of conversations happening every second, so wrote Sprinklr. If you look at the Indian media, there is hardly any news on sports, political events because they have not had the same global impact as Coronavirus did on individuals, businesses and governments. Brandwatch, another social media analytics company, found that sentiment surrounding Coronavirus posts are unsurprisingly, mostly negative. The most prevalent emotion has been disgust with many of those mentions centering on hand washing and racism towards Chinese people. The second-most common emotion in these posts was fear. In many cases, these mentions centered on specific locations like Italy and Iran where the ravages of Coronavirus have been most acutely felt.
People’s concerns about Coronavirus have also been evident in their search history. Google searches of Coronavirus in the US saw their first major rise relative to all search traffic toward the end of January after the first person in the US was diagnosed with Coronavirus after travelling abroad. In recent days, Coronavirus has seen its highest level of search traffic-that level is indicated by a score of 100 on Google Trends. This is a huge search volume by any measure. Here’s that same trend indexed against perennially popular Google searches of “Trump,” “music,” and “video” for the last two months. Meanwhile, Google and other online platforms have been actively trying to root out misinformation about Coronavirus. YouTube has been particularly hard hit with hoaxes suggesting ways to prevent the virus and ads seeking to capitalise on it, both of which the company has been working to block.
The conversation is also in flux. Here’s a comparison of Google’s search traffic in the first week of March versus the first week of February. In February, accelerating search terms related to Coronavirus included a couple of misspellings of the virus which is what you’d expect when a keyword or topic is newly popular as well as mentions of Coronavirus in relation to SARS as people were initially trying to put the outbreak into historical context.
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