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In JMIR formative research

BACKGROUND : During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, numerous countries, including China and France, have implemented lockdown measures that have been shown to be effective in controlling the epidemic. However, little is known about the impact of these measures on the population as expressed on social media from different cultural contexts.

OBJECTIVE : To assess and compare the evolution of the topics discussed on Chinese and French social media during the COVID-19 lockdown.

METHODS : We extracted posts containing "COVID-19"- or "lockdown"-related keywords in the most commonly used micro-blogging social media platforms, i.e., Weibo (China) and Twitter (France), from one week before to the lifting of the lockdown. A topic model was applied independently for three periods: pre-lockdown, early lockdown and mid-to-late lockdown, to assess the evolution of the topics discussed on Chinese and French social media.

RESULTS : 6 395, 23 422 and 141 643 Chinese Weibo messages, and 34 327, 119 919, and 282 965 French tweets were extracted in the pre-lockdown, early lockdown and mid-to-late lockdown periods in China and France, respectively. Four categories of topics were discussed in a continuously evolving way in all three periods: epidemic news and everyday life, scientific information, public measures and solidarity & encouragement. The most represented category over all periods in both countries was epidemic news and everyday life. Scientific information was far more discussed on Weibo than in French tweets. Misinformation circulated through social media in both countries; however, it was more concerned with the virus and epidemic in China, whereas it was more concerned with the lockdown measures in France. Regarding public measures, more criticisms were identified in French tweets than on Weibo. Advantages and data privacy concerns regarding tracing apps were also addressed in French tweets. All these differences were explained by the different use of social media, the different timeline of the epidemic and the different cultural context in these two countries.

CONCLUSIONS : This study is the first to compare the social media content in Eastern and Western countries during the unprecedented COVID-19 lockdown. Using general COVID-19-related social media data, our results describe common and different public reactions, behaviors and concerns in China and France, covering even the fine topics identified in prior studies focusing on specific interests. We believe our study can help characterize country-specific public needs and appropriately address them during an outbreak.


Schück Stéphane, Foulquié Pierre, Mebarki Adel, Faviez Carole, Khadhar Mickaïl, Texier Nathalie, Katsahian Sandrine, Burgun Anita, Chen Xiaoyi