Characterizing the COVID-19 Infodemic on Chinese Social Media: Exploratory Study.JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2021 02 05; 7(2):e26090.JP
The COVID-19 infodemic has been disseminating rapidly on social media and posing a significant threat to people's health and governance systems.
This study aimed to investigate and analyze posts related to COVID-19 misinformation on major Chinese social media platforms in order to characterize the COVID-19 infodemic.
We collected posts related to COVID-19 misinformation published on major Chinese social media platforms from January 20 to May 28, 2020, by using PythonToolkit. We used content analysis to identify the quantity and source of prevalent posts and topic modeling to cluster themes related to the COVID-19 infodemic. Furthermore, we explored the quantity, sources, and theme characteristics of the COVID-19 infodemic over time.
The daily number of social media posts related to the COVID-19 infodemic was positively correlated with the daily number of newly confirmed (r=0.672, P<.01) and newly suspected (r=0.497, P<.01) COVID-19 cases. The COVID-19 infodemic showed a characteristic of gradual progress, which can be divided into 5 stages: incubation, outbreak, stalemate, control, and recovery. The sources of the COVID-19 infodemic can be divided into 5 types: chat platforms (1100/2745, 40.07%), video-sharing platforms (642/2745, 23.39%), news-sharing platforms (607/2745, 22.11%), health care platforms (239/2745, 8.71%), and Q&A platforms (157/2745, 5.72%), which slightly differed at each stage. The themes related to the COVID-19 infodemic were clustered into 8 categories: "conspiracy theories" (648/2745, 23.61%), "government response" (544/2745, 19.82%), "prevention action" (411/2745, 14.97%), "new cases" (365/2745, 13.30%), "transmission routes" (244/2745, 8.89%), "origin and nomenclature" (228/2745, 8.30%), "vaccines and medicines" (154/2745, 5.61%), and "symptoms and detection" (151/2745, 5.50%), which were prominently diverse at different stages. Additionally, the COVID-19 infodemic showed the characteristic of repeated fluctuations.
Our study found that the COVID-19 infodemic on Chinese social media was characterized by gradual progress, videoization, and repeated fluctuations. Furthermore, our findings suggest that the COVID-19 infodemic is paralleled to the propagation of the COVID-19 epidemic. We have tracked the COVID-19 infodemic across Chinese social media, providing critical new insights into the characteristics of the infodemic and pointing out opportunities for preventing and controlling the COVID-19 infodemic.