A Story of “We” During the Covid-19 Pandemic
01 August, 2022
The Coronavirus pandemic has affected our world in unimaginable ways within the span of just a few short months.
Has the pandemic changed our use of language? To find out, we turned to Twitter to collect a large sample of language as used during the Coronavirus outbreak. We then used our technology to compare it with a similar sample from Twitter from a year ago. Here is what we found.
First, more about what we did. Since we wanted to get the general “pulse” of the world, we crawled random tweets from the Twitter stream. So far, the study was done on English only, and we crawled 10 million tweets written in English between March 22 – March 28. We then took a collection of 10 million English random tweets from 2018, as our “normalcy” baseline. Using these two samples of language use, we proceeded to analyze the differences. We used our Insighter(™) technology, and converted each of these two samples into a structured representation reflecting the use of different types of words in each sample. We then measured the ratio between these two uses, normalized for each sample, and found the categories of words that are used differently in the two samples: a ratio larger than one indicates word categories more often used during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a ratio smaller than one indicates word categories that are now used less often.
Our analyses allow us to answer two main questions: What are the word categories that are used more often now than during “normal” times? And conversely, what are the types of words that have now dropped in usage as compared to the regular times?
What type of words are more often used during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Interestingly, and perhaps importantly, the types of words that have the sharpest increase are the “We” focused words — which reflect language referring to us as a group, eg, we, us, ours, ourselves, and so on. We believe this is a powerful finding, as it indicates an increase in our sense of community.
Other related types of words have also seen an increase, such as “Collectivities,” which has to do with words that refer to groups of people, such as population, profession, company, government, and so on; “Affiliation”, which includes words about connections between people, such as buddies, collaboration, helpful; and “Humans roles,” with words such as artist, author, beginner, celebrity,and more.
Words reflecting financial concerns (“Finance”) and words reflecting “Work” have also seen a large increase in frequency. This is not very surprising, given that many people now have to work from home, which has led to a major change in work habits, associated with a more frequent use of work-related terms. Moreover, the outbreak has sadly also led to a large number of people losing their job, which has resulted in a significant increase in financial concerns.
Other types of words that have undergone an increase in usage are words about “Health,” which is expected given the pandemic; and words that have to do with “Home” — not surprising given the self-isolation and the amount of time many of us have to spend at home. The recent period has also brought major concerns (“Risk” and “Death” types of words), and many changes (“Increase” and “Decrease” words).
What types of words are less often used during the COVID-19 outbreak?
The sharpest decrease in usage was undergone by “Swear” words. Could this be a sign that we are becoming a kinder society? We are also more formal, as reflected by the decreased use in “Informal” words.
In line with the earlier observation that we now use the “We” words much more often, the “I“ words (me, mine, myself) have seen a sharp decrease as compared to regular times. Less self-centeredness, and more group focus. Another related trend is the decrease in words that have to do with physical perceptions, with word categories about “Feel,” “See,” “Ingest,” “Body,” “Perception” — another indication of the move away from self-centered perceptions.
Somehow surprisingly, words centered around “Family” and “Friends” have also decreased, which could be an effect of “social distancing,” with fewer active social connections.
Life since the beginning of the pandemic seemed like an emotional roller-coaster, with many emotional changes as compared to what normal life looked like. We see now fewer expressions of “Joy,” and also fewer expressions of “Anger” (remember the drop in “Swear” words?). On the other side, we have witnessed an increase in words reflecting “Anxiety” and “Fear,” not surprising given the ongoing outbreak.
Initium.AI leverages recent advances in Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning to transform natural language into actionable insights.