Study confirms that aggressiveness on Twitter grows during state of alarm

Aggressiveness on Twitter in Spain has grown during the state of alarm. This has been confirmed by a study conducted by researchers from Valencia’s Polytechnic University (UPV), and which was based on the analysis of over 5,000 tweets published on this social network following different government announcements on the coronavirus.Twitter study

The study also concludes that Spanish people increasingly want there not to be hierarchical distance, for decision making to be flexible and for there to be debates with the people.

“With this study, among other objectives, we wanted to learn the most common attitude markers used on Twitter following government announcements and, from them, show whether there is acceptance of power in Spain, as well as respect for its decisions,” says María Luisa Carrió, director of the Department of Applied Linguistics of the UPV and study coordinator.

The work team of the UPV focused on the days prior to the declaration of the state of alarm, and the first days of total confinement – March 12 to 16. And they exclusively analysed tweets in response to publications from the accounts of the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Public Health during the aforementioned period.

“Our interest emerged from the news of the first days, which spoke of around 1,700 arrests and over 200,000 proposed sanctions in Spain. This made us question whether there was respect for the government’s decisions at critical moments in Spain,” adds Alberto Conejero, director of the Department of Applied Mathematics and researcher for the IUMPA institute of the UPV.

5254 tweets, 110,000 words and respectful, contemptuous and emotional attitudes

The study presents a detailed socio-linguistic analysis of the comments that were made on Twitter during the first days of the most drastic measures taken in Spain during the COVID-19 crisis. In them, researchers conduct comprehensive work, revising the 5,254 tweets found – over 110,000 words – four times over.

From these, the study identified the attitude markers and the existence or absence of respect towards power in critical moments such as a national state of alarm, the obligation of confinement and the stoppage of professional activity in Spain. “There are three types of markers: of respect, which show a positive attitude towards the government notifications related to COVID-19; of contempt, a negative reaction to the announcements; and emotional, with words that denote a polarised feeling or emotion after the notifications,” explains María Luisa Carrió.

The analysis found more respect markers in the tweets published in response to the Ministry of Health than to the Ministry of Public Health, and more contempt markers towards power in the Ministry of Public Health than the Ministry of Health.

“This data reveals that citizens respect power in Spain because, for them, indirectly, the Ministry of Health represents ‘pure’ power, whereas Public Health represents the experts who, although they depend on the government, and according to the comments found, seems like the ones who make decisions regarding COVID-19, are made responsible for the mistakes,” says Alberto Conejero.

He also stresses that the respect markers are used to thank, support, question the government and more, understanding that it is a critical situation, but using neutral words. On the other hand, the tone of the contempt attitude markers has a very strong negative polarity due to the COVID-19 crisis.

In the case of negative markers, words that stand out include ‘risk’, ‘none’, ‘irresponsible’, ‘shame’, ‘lie’ and ‘resign’; all terms with a negative and critical polarity towards the government, which convey aggressiveness. “And as the alarm progressed, the number of aggressive markers increased,” adds Conejero.

For the coordinator of the study, it provides a socio-linguistic vision of the attitudinal markers on Twitter. “From them, we have been able to observe that the reaction of Spanish people to the decisions made by the government is aggressive, there is an intense attitude of contempt and distance to power is not accepted,” concludes María Luisa Carrió.