A LawnStarter.com study of recent Twitter traffic shows 6 in 10 Americans are maintaining an upbeat attitude about the Coronavirus crisis, and tweets about the virus indicate we’re far more interested in booze than we are in guns, politics, or even much-coveted toilet paper.
According to Douglas Moll, a psychologist in Cincinnati and a medical adviser for health information website eMediHealth, staying positive relies in part on the hopeful belief that the pandemic won’t drag on forever.
“These are extremely stressful and anxiety-ridden times for practically everyone. This global pandemic rivals what you would see in wartime situations or national disasters,” Moll says.
“But one thought that may help us cope is to remember that as far as we can tell, this is an event that is time-limited, not something that is going to go on for years,” he adds. “A lot of that, however, is up to us and the actions we take, such as following stay-at-home orders and maintaining disinfection procedures, and this actually can help us feel empowered in a situation where it is easy to feel powerless.”
What We Analyzed: 237,627 Tweets
To get a sense of where Americans’ heads and hearts are regarding coronavirus, LawnStarter tapped Twitter’s open API to pull a sample of 237,627 U.S. tweets sent from Feb. 20, 2020, to March 20, 2020. The tweets all included one or more of the following terms: coronavirus, corona (beer excluded), corona virus, covid, covid19 and covid-19. We randomly pulled 500 virus-related tweets per hour for the entire 30-day period.
We then analyzed the tweets in two ways:
- Sentiment — This measured whether Twitter users were positive, negative or neutral in their comments. In the data world, this is known as “polarity.”
- Context — We looked at the words within each message to see what else people were talking about within their coronavirus tweets.
- Americans are upbeat. In this time of high stress, 60% tweeted positive messages about the Coronavirus situation. We’re also positive about the stock market and working from home.
- The volume of tweets increased immensely as the virus worsened, rising 1,178% from Feb 20 to March 20.
- Sanitation products are on a few people’s minds, with about 2% of Coronavirus tweets mentioning at least one of the following: toilet paper, bleach, diapers, rubbing alcohol, paper towels or hand sanitizer. The most common product? Toilet paper, mentioned in 0.74% of Coronavirus tweets.
- People are commenting more often about drinking than sanitation products. Those writing Coronavirus tweets are 17 times more likely to tweet about alcohol than toilet paper. A total of 13% of tweets mention some form of drinkable alcohol. The top 5 states whose Coronavirus tweets were most concerned with booze were: Maine, Wyoming, Montana, Delaware and Arizona. The District of Columbia was in sixth place. (See table below.)
- As the stock market was in steep decline during the period of the sampling, Americans remain positive about it. Just 33% of tweets about the stock market were negative.
- Politics are all over the news, but only a tiny slice of Americans see the Coronavirus through a political lens. Just 2% of Coronavirus tweets mention politics.
- The Coronavirus threat has created anecdotal evidence that gun sales have surged. But on Twitter, gun talk is a whimper, not a bang: Just 0.24% of Coronavirus-related tweets mention guns.
Positivity Reigns Nationwide
Working From Home: So Far, It’s Good
A lot of us give a thumbs-up to telecommuting. Of the 5.1% of coronavirus tweets that mentioned working from home, 49% were positive, 29% were negative and 22% were neutral, our review found.
Stock Market: 4 in 10 Remain Positive
Despite wild swings on Wall Street, 43% of coronavirus tweets about the stock market were also positive. A third (33%) were negative and 24% were neutral. In other words, more than 4 in 10 of us have invested in a positive outlook about our investments.
“I know everything feels very uncertain right now, and that is unsettling,” says financial adviser Sara Seely of Austin, Texas. “The best thing you can do is wait for things to calm down in the markets. That is generally against our nature, or at least for most of us, to not start doing something, but we risk more trying to time this irrational market than we have to gain.”
Not in a Panic for Toilet Paper, Other Essentials
We’ve panic-bought a lot of essentials, but on Twitter, at least, the numbers say essential goods are not essential conversations. Few of the Coronavirus-related tweets include mention of the suddenly scarce store products.
Just 1.7% of all coronavirus tweets featured at least one of these essential goods: toilet paper, bleach, diapers, rubbing alcohol, paper towels and hand sanitizer. Among those true essentials, toilet paper led the pack, mentioned in 0.74% of all coronavirus-related Twitter activity.
Spiked Run: Interest in Alcohol Surges
Alcohol (the drinkable kind) trumps toilet paper.
Shoppers have been scouring stores for even just one roll of toilet paper as Americans stock up to ride out stay-at-home recommendations or orders. But if Twitter is any indication, we’re more eager to buy a bottle of Chambord or Chartreuse than we are to score a roll of Charmin.
In our analysis, 13% of coronavirus tweets mentioned alcohol. Among all 50 states, Maine ranked first for Twitter liquor chatter. Louisiana — famed for letting boozily good times roll — was at the bottom of the whiskey-tweeting barrel.
Health Experts: Easy on the Quarantinis
Health experts prefer that you focus on everyday needs rather than the drink of the moment — the “Quarantini” — during these stressful times. The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Health dispenses this cautionary note:
“Replacing bar meetups with virtual happy hours might offer a much-needed salve during the novel coronavirus pandemic, but downing too much alcohol could also reduce your immune system’s ability to fight off infectious diseases, according to numerous studies.”
Politics, Coronavirus Don’t Mix
Many of furiously debating about our favorite political candidates. Now, we appear to be more immersed in debates about which social-distancing apps are the best for virtually visiting with friends and relatives.
Our review found that just 1.7% of coronavirus tweets mentioned politics. A tweet was considered political if, in addition to citing the virus, it included one of the following words: Trump, McConnell, Republican, GOP, Republicans, Biden, Pelosi, Dem, Democrat, Democrats, politics and politicians.
No matter whether it’s news about the coronavirus or politics, you should be in the know but resist becoming obsessed, says Moll, the Cincinnati psychologist.
“We are being inundated with news about all aspects of the pandemic 24/7. Some of this is very important, obviously, and we need to keep ourselves informed, especially at the local level, so that we know the actions we need to take,” Moll says.
To keep the positivity going, schedule some news-free time, he says. “But being glued to CNN all day is probably only going to increase your anxiety level. You really have to strike a balance between being adequately informed and up to date versus being overwhelmed when it comes to the news.”
Ask the Experts
Geoffrey Mount Varner, MD, MPH
former Medical Director for Washington, D.C.
Q: Our data shows people are expressing much more positive attitudes than negative ones in their tweets. How important is a positive attitude during a pandemic?
A: A positive attitude is extremely important and helpful. Remaining positive or moving in that direction prevents you from becoming stressed. When we are stressed we increase a naturally occurring hormone in our body known as cortisol. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol cause transient decreases in our immune system, thus making us more susceptible to infections, including the coronavirus. In short, people with positive attitudes are less likely to be stressed. And people with positive attitudes are more likely to follow recommendations and do what is in the best interest of the community — i.e. staying 6 feet apart; 6 feet apart keeps you and your family from becoming 6 feet under. The data proves it.
Q: A substantial percentage of people tweeting are commenting about alcohol. Do you see that as a potential issue?
A: Of course, some people are using this time to drink socially or to have a connection with others, but as medical professionals, we have to pay attention to the impact that boredom, sudden life changes and extra consumption of alcohol may bring. Right now, awareness is key. As long as we are aware of the changes or uptick in certain activities, we can brace for what comes next.
Q: Our data says people are expressing mostly positive thoughts about working from home. What signals might we see that could indicate those positive feelings are wearing off?
A: Due to how quickly news is being thrown at us, I believe that people are in a period of adjustment. No commute, no juggling hectic schedules and no forced human interaction seem like great things until it becomes the new normal. As a professional, I would keep a lookout for changes in mood and motivation right now. As the data shows that people are really talking about alcohol consumption, this is an indicator that alcohol is being used as a stress reliever.
Writer John Egan contributed to this report.