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The social amplification and attenuation of COVID-19 risk perception shaping mask wearing behavior: A longitudinal twitter analysis.
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257428
IntroductionTwitter represents a mainstream news source for the American public, offering a valuable vehicle for learning how citizens make sense of pandemic health threats like Covid-19. Masking as a risk mitigation measure became controversial in the US. The social amplification risk framework offers insight into how a risk event interacts with psychological, social, institutional, and cultural communication processes to shape Covid-19 risk perception.
MethodsQualitative content analysis was conducted on 7,024 mask tweets reflecting 6,286 users between January 24 and July 7, 2020, to identify how citizens expressed Covid-19 risk perception over time. Descriptive statistics were computed for (a) proportion of tweets using hyperlinks, (b) mentions, (c) hashtags, (d) questions, and (e) location.
ResultsSix themes emerged regarding how mask tweets amplified and attenuated Covid-19 risk: (a) severity perceptions (18.0%) steadily increased across 5 months; (b) mask effectiveness debates (10.7%) persisted; (c) who is at risk (26.4%) peaked in April and May 2020; (d) mask guidelines (15.6%) peaked April 3, 2020, with federal guidelines; (e) political legitimizing of Covid-19 risk (18.3%) steadily increased; and (f) mask behavior of others (31.6%) composed the largest discussion category and increased over time. Of tweets, 45% contained a hyperlink, 40% contained mentions, 33% contained hashtags, and 16.5% were expressed as a question.
ConclusionsUsers ascribed many meanings to mask wearing in the social media information environment revealing that COVID-19 risk was expressed in a more expanded range than objective risk. The simultaneous amplification and attenuation of COVID-19 risk perception on social media complicates public health messaging about mask wearing.
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