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In Journal of medical Internet research ; h5-index 88.0

BACKGROUND : By the end of 2022, more than 100 million people were infected with COVID-19 in the United States, and the cumulative death rate in rural areas (383.5/100,000) was much higher than in urban areas (280.1/100,000). As the pandemic spread, people used social media platforms to express their opinions and concerns about COVID-19-related topics.

OBJECTIVE : This study aimed to (1) identify the primary COVID-19-related topics in the contiguous United States communicated over Twitter and (2) compare the sentiments urban and rural users expressed about these topics.

METHODS : We collected tweets containing geolocation data from May 2020 to January 2022 in the contiguous United States. We relied on the tweets' geolocations to determine if their authors were in an urban or rural setting. We trained multiple word2vec models with several corpora of tweets based on geospatial and timing information. Using a word2vec model built on all tweets, we identified hashtags relevant to COVID-19 and performed hashtag clustering to obtain related topics. We then ran an inference analysis for urban and rural sentiments with respect to the topics based on the similarity between topic hashtags and opinion adjectives in the corresponding urban and rural word2vec models. Finally, we analyzed the temporal trend in sentiments using monthly word2vec models.

RESULTS : We created a corpus of 407 million tweets, 350 million (86%) of which were posted by users in urban areas, while 18 million (4.4%) were posted by users in rural areas. There were 2666 hashtags related to COVID-19, which clustered into 20 topics. Rural users expressed stronger negative sentiments than urban users about COVID-19 prevention strategies and vaccination (P<.001). Moreover, there was a clear political divide in the perception of politicians by urban and rural users; these users communicated stronger negative sentiments about Republican and Democratic politicians, respectively (P<.001). Regarding misinformation and conspiracy theories, urban users exhibited stronger negative sentiments about the "covidiots" and "China virus" topics, while rural users exhibited stronger negative sentiments about the "Dr. Fauci" and "plandemic" topics. Finally, we observed that urban users' sentiments about the economy appeared to transition from negative to positive in late 2021, which was in line with the US economic recovery.

CONCLUSIONS : This study demonstrates there is a statistically significant difference in the sentiments of urban and rural Twitter users regarding a wide range of COVID-19-related topics. This suggests that social media can be relied upon to monitor public sentiment during pandemics in disparate types of regions. This may assist in the geographically targeted deployment of epidemic prevention and management efforts.

Liu Yongtai, Yin Zhijun, Ni Congning, Yan Chao, Wan Zhiyu, Malin Bradley


COVID-19, Twitter, data, epidemic, machine learning, management, model, prevention, rural, sentiment analysis, social media, topic analysis, training, urban, vaccination, word embedding