You may already think that the UK media and Government are out of touch with what the population really feels, but now scientific analysis of authentic data offers proof.
Significance Systems, whose founders are credited with developing the idea of ‘social media’ in 1994, has used its expertise to analyse petabytes (that’s 10 to the power of 15 bytes) of conversations – hundreds of thousands of them – taking place online since the outbreak of Covid-19. This has generated an understanding of how societal groups react at an emotional level in real time.
Community pharmacists will be able to equate the behaviour of customers with the graphic representation of the data – definite feelings of panic, with anger spikes early (mid-March on) and anxiety throughout. The public have also felt a sense of hope, optimism and belonging at times. But the mixed message to “stay alert” appears to have confused many, with anxiety, anger and alarm rising again towards the end of May. There might even be the first signs of some of the public anger about the behaviour of the Prime Minister's senior advisor Dominic Cummings on the extreme right of the graphic (May 27).
“Focus groups, press polls and top level reviews of social media are giving decision-makers a misleading picture of the psychological impact of Covid-19 in the UK,” says Significance Systems CEO John Ricketts. He says that his company’s deeper ‘big data’ analysis of actual conversations paints a “disturbing” picture of how society really feels. “Our analysis shows that although the initial panic around Covid-19 has passed, a high level of fear remains, and is again growing,” says Mr Ricketts. “Anxiety and alarm are also on the rise.”
Mr Ricketts says these findings have significant implications for decision-makers in both business and government. “At the very least, the ongoing impact on mental health resources will be significant,” he continues. “Emotion precedes behaviour. Understanding how people really feel could help ensure the development of pre-emptive policy responses which are targeted and effective, and narratives or counter-narratives which are engaging and genuinely transformative.”
Significance Systems chief technology officer Darrell Berry adds: “The narratives playing out online are an integral part of today’s connected world. These narratives feed our social reality. Our analysis provides insight into affect - how people really feel, their true emotions. People’s online behaviour, properly analysed, gives a true insight into their state of mind in a way traditional research cannot.”