The Coronavirus Conversation

As the Coronavirus pandemic captures the nation’s attention and impacts everyday life, we took a look at what people are saying about the national emergency on Twitter.

In the last week alone, there were 158.8 million tweets about the Coronavirus – an increase of roughly 120 million tweets from the week prior. Among topics that we analyzed for this report, the government’s response to the Coronavirus drove the largest share of conversation, with 13.5 million tweets about the federal, state and local government. Outside of government-focused conversations, people talked in equal numbers about the social impact and business impact of the pandemic.

Who is driving the conversation?

Key influencers were identified using GPG’s Network Influencer Tool, which analyzes participation, engagement, connections, information-sharing and reach within a given topic to determine overall influence scores and rankings of those involved.

As the Coronavirus conversation took off during the last week, the most influential people on Twitter were the President, the CDC, and media outlets and journalists. Celebrities also influenced the conversation as they encouraged people to #stayhome.


Conversation about the Government and Coronavirus

Actions by the federal government have captured more attention than state and local leaders.

Influential people in government and the media tweeted directly at the President to issue calls to action to address the Coronavirus pandemic. Tweets were often partisan, drawing contrasts between responses from the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s efforts to pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Others called for a change in rhetoric after President Trump referred to Coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.”

Conversation about state and local governments was more limited but peaked on March 16th as more governors and mayors took action to limit public gatherings and shut down bars and restaurants.


Conversation about the Coronavirus Impact on Social Issues

The impact on education dominated the conversation about the social impact of Coronavirus, especially early in the week as K-12 schools, colleges and universities began to announce remote learning plans and closures.

Most used Twitter as a way to share information broadly about school closures. Some also engaged in conversation to pressure more districts to close classrooms (e.g. tweeting at Mayor DeBlasio to close NYC schools). School conversations sometimes overlapped with food security conversations as people worried about students who rely on school meals.

Most of the paid leave conversation focused on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Some also took to Twitter to call on specific companies to expand paid leave policies for their employees. Senator Sanders shared a message on Twitter to pressure Jeff Bezos to guarantee paid sick leave to Amazon’s 800 thousand workers in warehouses, which thousands liked and retweeted.

Conversation about elder care was driven by local leaders who shared information about steps to protect adults age 65+ who are most at risk. Individuals also tweeted reminders to remotely check in on elderly neighbors, family and friends without putting them at risk.


Conversation about the Coronavirus Impact on Industry

Sports dominated the conversation, followed by airlines.

Early in the week, most of the sports conversation focused on breaking news about delayed seasons and events. Some tweeted about comments from President Trump early in the week when he expressed concern that the NFL would follow the NHL’s lead and preemptively delay the season. As more NBA players tested positive for the virus, a debate emerged on Twitter about whether it is fair to prioritize access to testing for the rich and famous. A tweet by MSNBC contributor David Corn that shared President Trump’s comments on the debate over who should have access to testing gained some traction online.

Following sports, conversation about airlines was the most dominant. People shared news about airlines cutting back on flights and debated whether they should be bailed out by the federal government. Many took to Twitter to oppose a federal bailout for airlines, which they accused of unfairly increasing ticket prices and prioritizing profits over consumers. As travel restrictions intensified, Twitter also became a platform to raise awareness of long lines at airports and chaotic scenes that put travelers at risk of contracting the virus.


Conversation about the Coronavirus Impact on the Economy

Americans worried about the economic impact of the virus. Equal attention was paid to the impact on small businesses and big business bailouts.

Twitter was a popular platform to share daily updates on stock market performance and draw historical comparisons to 2008, 1987 and the Great Depression. It also became a place for speculation about how the Trump Administration will act to stimulate the economy (e.g. bailouts for big business, lowering interest rates, banning stock buy-backs, universal basic income).

There was more sympathy on Twitter for small business than big business. Many described small business owners as “the backbone” of local economies and took to Twitter to share information about different opportunities for individual Americans to support small businesses in their communities. People also tweeted support for federal legislation to provide relief for small businesses (e.g. payroll tax holidays).