Early indications of COVID-19 appeared on social media before the first outbreaks began

On the social networking site Twitter, early indications of a looming coronavirus pandemic was evident as early as December of 2019 through a trove of health-related user posts, according to new research published in Scientific Reports.

At IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, a database containing messages and posts on Twitter was analyzed to uncover any potential early indications of an emerging pandemic.

The study involved posts on Twitter that contained the keyword “pneumonia,” scouring through posts in several languages, including English, German, French, and Spanish, from December 2014 to March 2020.

The term “pneumonia” was used given its a hallmark symptom associated with the viral disease caused by SARS-CoV-2.

“We analyze data from Twitter to uncover early-warning signals of COVID-19 outbreaks in Europe in the winter season 2019–2020, before the first public announcements of local sources of infection were made,” the study reads.

It continues by stating: “We show evidence that unexpected levels of concerns about cases of pneumonia were raised across a number of European countries. Whistleblowing came primarily from the geographical regions that eventually turned out to be the key breeding grounds for infections.”

“These findings point to the urgency of setting up an integrated digital surveillance system in which social media can help geo-localize chains of contagion that would otherwise proliferate almost completely undetected,” the study concluded.

The study was authored by Milena Lopreite, Pietro Panzarasa, and Michelangelo Puliga & Massimo Riccaboni.

Image courtesy of Thomas White