Surveillance of COVID-19 Pandemic using Social Media: A Reddit Study in North Carolina

Christopher Whitfield, Yang Liu, Mohad Anwar

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has changed various aspects of people's lives and behaviors. At this stage, there are no other ways to control the natural progression of the disease than adopting mitigation strategies such as wearing masks, watching distance, and washing hands. Moreover, at this time of social distancing, social media plays a key role in connecting people and providing a platform for expressing their feelings. In this study, we tap into social media to surveil the uptake of mitigation and detection strategies, and capture issues and concerns about the pandemic. In particular, we explore the research question, "how much can be learned regarding the public uptake of mitigation strategies and concerns about COVID-19 pandemic by using natural language processing on Reddit posts?" After extracting COVID-related posts from the four largest subreddit communities of North Carolina over six months, we performed NLP-based preprocessing to clean the noisy data. We employed a custom Named-entity Recognition (NER) system and a Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) method for topic modeling on a Reddit corpus. We observed that 'mask', 'flu', and 'testing' are the most prevalent named-entities for "Personal Protective Equipment", "symptoms", and "testing" categories, respectively. We also observed that the most discussed topics are related to testing, masks, and employment. The mitigation measures are the most prevalent theme of discussion across all subreddits.

Knowledge Graph

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