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Sensing emotions in a crisis

 — 30 octobre 2020
From Twitter to Facebook to Reddit, billions of people around the world use social media daily to connect with friends and family, as well as to share their stories, feelings and opinions about the state of the world around them. As such, social media has become a prime playground for social sensing—methods that use humans as "sensors" to gather information.

The wealth of information on available from social media is invaluable to governments. « The ability to understand the ground accurately and monitor changes in sentiment in a timely manner can help policymakers and communication professionals achieve greater timeliness, relevance and sensitivity to the nuances of the public’s needs, » noted Yinping Yang, a Principal Investigator at A*STAR’s Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC). This is especially true and relevant during times of crisis, like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

When COVID-19 first emerged in late 2019 and began spreading around the world in early 2020, social media was abuzz with activity about real-time issues like food hoarding and the use of masks. Yang and an international team of researchers responded to the urgent need to understand public sentiment during the rapidly unfolding health crisis by turning to social media, like many before them. What made their study unique was that it examined the multidimensional nature of emotions embedded in users’ messages.

Several studies performed in the past decade have used social media to track public sentiment and trends in communication during health crises like Zika and the H7N9 avian influenza. However, these studies simply tracked the volume and the positive and negative sentiment counts surrounding common topics of debate. Emotions, on the other hand, are psychological processes and more closely linked to behaviors.

« One thing we know from psychology is that arise to events that are important to our concerns and needs, be it feeling angry when being treated unfairly or feeling scared of getting infected by a deadly virus, » Yang said. In this way, emotions are more than just feelings; rather, they provide powerful insights into an individual’s and the public’s underlying concerns that matter to them. As such, are most effective when they take into account the public’s emotional state.


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