According to the users’ posts, six main themes and sub-themes were identified given the purpose and questions of the study.
Information pollution on social media
Despite (or rather because of) uncertainty concerning SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, numerous interpretations and comments made in different areas and reinterpretation of information by second and third parties have led to ‘infollution’ (information pollution), misleading advice, and confusion on social media. This is illustrated in the following post:
“What has given these people the permission to think that they know better than science and every single qualified authority on all matters?” [User #2]
“This is the result of a media that nobody can trust. I still do not know the truth.” [User #77]
Questioning the source of available information connotes the need and expectation for qualified information from scientists and related authorities such as departments or ministries responsible for health. Apart from these sources, it can be asserted that other sources that provide selective and qualified information about the COVID-19 outbreak leave a similar impression on individuals, as explained by one of the users:
“You have got to give it to Vox [American news and opinion website] for all these quality videos on this pandemic. Probably the most informative videos out there.” [User #22]
According to the users’ posts, the information on social media that only the elderly belong to a high-risk group than young individuals has led to misunderstanding, as exemplified by the following users:
“A dear friend in [X, referring to anywhere] is in a coma with coronavirus. He is under 40 and was in excellent condition [with a surprised expression].” [User #54]
“That notion of generational immunity is a fatal falsehood. There are steadily increasing, substantiated instances of typically ‘healthy’ adults in their 30s who became ill and are now on respirators. This has to be taken seriously by everyone, or no one is safe!” [User #55]
This misunderstanding has induced an increase in beliefs among many people, particularly young individuals, that the measures taken and the regulations and recommendations emphasised by the authorities are not necessary and that the COVID-19 outbreak is exaggerated. This has also caused SARS-CoV-2 as such to be underrated by them.
The need to know the unusual threat that spreads rapidly
The lack of experience with such an outbreak has led to confusion among the population. Despite the vast media coverage in light of an increasing number of cases, the health literacy in part seems to be low as the subsequent posts illustrate:
“How can you spread a virus, if you are healthy and are not carrying it?” [User #79]
“But we do not even know how the virus is spread.” [User #18]
The perplexity about the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and the symptoms of COVID-19 have gained depth on social media forums as a result of unmet information needs related to the outbreak. The following posts contain the discussion about the relationship of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and the symptoms of COVID-19:
“You do not even have to be just like her if you got something that starts spreading before symptoms develop. So you are spreading it before you even know you are sick. And unless I am mistaken, COVID-19 does spread before you have symptoms, so that it makes everyone that catches it a Typhoid Mary [referring to Mary Mallon] for a short while.” [User #3]
“Until now, it has only been foremost expressed that the virus is transferred via droplets and the mouth. It has then been said, less so, that the virus is contracted from surfaces, especially metallic surfaces, for up to three or four days. Coins are metallic. So why is there no campaign for getting people to clean their coins? Is not it just like soldiers marching all over America during the Spanish flu pandemic? […] Would not these little things help a lot?” [User #23]
Both posts demonstrate that as uncertainties are reduced, particularly as exemplified in the second post, the debates on the COVID-19 outbreak change towards the precautions to be taken and the solutions to be developed.
The impacts of the social environment
In some posts, the disobedience to protective precautions is discussed in the context of personal freedom. The users explain:
“This is an attack on our rights; specifically, the right to peacefully assemble is being infringed.” [User #52]
“Yeah, sadly these people view a few weeks of stay-home order as a violation of their freedom and rights.” [User #24]
This relationship has an influence on individuals’ decision-making processes and shows how current debates turn into motivational actions that guide thoughts of individuals, as also revealed by the chat of two users:
“I just went to a crowded Red Robin [referring to a restaurant], and I am 30. It was delicious, and I took my sweet time eating my meal. Because this is America. And I will do what I want.” [User #72]
“The saddest part is that so many people get triggered by it; Red Robin is now the top trend on Twitter!” [User #73]
The second post contains an interpretation associated with the first post. Interpretations and responses on social media forums indicate that pictures, videos or individuals sharing relevant activities arouse curiosity and/or find reciprocity among people.
The role of the government’s representatives and politicians
Accusing authorities and politicians
According to the posts, the endeavours by the pertinent authorities for deceleration of the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak and protecting the public have not shown the expected sensitivity and solidarity in public, mainly due to the role that authorities and politicians played in the process. The criticisms mainly included the authorities and politicians in the United States and the United Kingdom:
“Simple rules to live by during this Pandemic (COVID-19) 2020:
1. Assume you have the virus!
2. Stay away from everyone! 6 feet away!
3. Wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds frequently!
4. Stop touching your face! Wear gloves to remind you!
5. Blame [X, referring to authority]! Although he was warned about this in November 2019, he did not react until March 2020!
6. Remember that we have 17 spy/intelligence agencies around the world working 24/7 that keeps [X] and our government informed. [X] is saying, “He did not know” is just an outward LIE!” [User #20]
“The UK to the world: What is going on?
World: Take cover!
UK: From what? I do not see anything.
World: The virus!
UK: Ah, it will not hurt.” [User #97]
Accusations made are further extended to blaming authorities for supposedly delaying the basic protective precautions and for not perceiving the COVID-19 outbreak as a serious threat from the beginning. In other words, the lack of common sense is associated with negligence by the authorities:
“Coming from the UK, it is worrying to see how slowly the government are responding to this and is embarrassing that Londoners are still ignoring the outbreaks’ severity.” [User #30]
“Governments around the world have already killed the majority of us by not being proactive.” [User #93]
The need for strong government actions and liability
Whilst some people have opposed the regulations and recommendations of the authorities, others have criticised the elected representatives for not sufficiently fighting against the COVID-19 outbreak by making tougher decisions. As explained by the users:
“The Florida governor should have taken this [referring to coronavirus outbreak] seriously and should have closed the beach.” [User #105]
“Some people are dumb. Unless some kind of restrictions is made official, they will not listen or understand.” [User #32]
Users highlight the need for strong government actions, such as mandatory actions taken in China and North Korea:
“People like them [referring to people who defy the bans and recommendations of authorities on social distancing] justify the need for some strong government actions like the Chinese or North Koreans.” [User #24]
Politicians’ conflict of interest
Politicians’ conflict of interest is considered to be one of the obstacles to appropriately focussing on and addressing the COVID-19 outbreak. On the one hand, it leads to a lack of confidence in politicians, especially their regulations and recommendations, and on the other hand, initiatives are not considered reasonable:
“I hate how conservatives have turned a global pandemic into their little personal freedom and victimization tantrum.” [User #5]
“We absolutely […] resist government run amok taking advantage of a crisis. This is how your liberty dies. Stand up America and resist!” [User #60]
In general, these posts show the pivotal role, which depending on the perspective is either positive or negative, that authorities and politicians have played in addressing the COVID-19 outbreak.
Aids without concrete economic steps to satisfy them
Economy versus virus
Some posts reveal that people need to decide between ‘protect themselves for health reasons’ and ‘earn money to survive’. Decision-making and human judgment are affected by individual priorities that trigger people about what they need to do, as shown by the posts as follows:
“If you are scared of getting sick, do not go outside. Wash your hands, etc. We need to start isolating the sick and at-risk people. Not everyone. Life and death are tied to the economy. Not just viruses.” [User #62]
“If you really want to protect Angelenos [referring to inhabitants of Los Angeles], freeze rent now! And if you really want people to stay home, protect those without housing. We can start by saving lives there.” [User #81]
Fear of unemployment
Fear of unemployment can be handled with individual priorities, as it is one of the reasons that affect the decision-making process; however, the posts include references to the users’ own economic situations. According to the posts, people are concerned about their future due to economic uncertainty and expect solutions that involve different social classes:
“I need the basic income now because I am currently applying for a visual impairment in the IT sector, and despite the alleged lack of skilled workers, no one is hiring.” [User #69]
“I know of too many people being threatened with unemployment if they do not attend work when they are not a key worker.” [User #85]
“What I will live on next month - I do not know!” [User #68]
Authorities are planning economic packages in order to protect companies and to provide economic stabilisation. Yet some posts suggest that economic recoveries will only be for large companies. People therefore expect concrete emergency programs covering different social classes. The subsequent posts exemplify the perception of individuals about economic measures taken by the authorities:
“Everything that should be invested in the emergency program in the social area is blocking! The only help for business, banks and medicine are supported! Pure neoliberalism!” [User #59]
“... they will throw money like water at the rich to make sure they do not suffer.” [User #8]
Self-criticism by parents related to the behaviours and attitudes of their children
‘How did we raise our children?’ is the main question that gains prominence by parents after the disapproving reactions of young people to the basic protective measures taken by authorities. This is emphasised by users as follows:
“These young people do not care about us, –old folks. We cannot blame them; we taught them to only care about their own personal happiness.” [User #25]
“... historically, youth has always had a sense of immortality which is compounded by the ‘screen’ addiction in 2020 [...] and which has been detrimental to any skills of real-world, self-reliance or community awareness that previous generations may have had. Plus, after carefree unsupervised childhoods [...], my generation and the next generation parents have become helicopter parents, creating co-dependency and entitlement - at the expense of civic or community duty.” [User #51]
The reactions of young people to the precautions taken by the authorities can be explained by many reasons. However, according to the posts, the effect of the results of the use of technology stands out as the most obvious reason why social awareness cannot be created in the younger generation:
“..., these are zoomers [referring to members of Generation Z, born in the late 1990s and early 2000s] [or] weaklings who grew up with technology and internet their entire lives, unlike the rest of humans […]” [User #28]
Concerning the descriptions of parents mentioned above, their perception of the young generation is as follows:
“Embarrassing! This is America’s younger generation.” [User #101]
“The final generation before the next big war; the calm before the storm.” [User #29]
The posts show that the behaviours and attitudes of the young generation are considered socially unacceptable by the older generation and that a low level of expectations of parents from young individuals is intertwined with the rise in their levels of worries about the future.