Increased Online Aggression During COVID-19 Lockdowns: Two-Stage Study of Deep Text Mining and Difference-in-Differences Analysis

Jerome Tze Hou Hsu, Richard Tzong Han Tsai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic caused a critical public health crisis worldwide, and policymakers are using lockdowns to control the virus. However, there has been a noticeable increase in aggressive social behaviors that threaten social stability. Lockdown measures might negatively affect mental health and lead to an increase in aggressive emotions. Discovering the relationship between lockdown and increased aggression is crucial for formulating appropriate policies that address these adverse societal effects. We applied natural language processing (NLP) technology to internet data, so as to investigate the social and emotional impacts of lockdowns. Objective: This research aimed to understand the relationship between lockdown and increased aggression using NLP technology to analyze the following 3 kinds of aggressive emotions: anger, offensive language, and hate speech, in spatiotemporal ranges of tweets in the United States. Methods: We conducted a longitudinal internet study of 11,455 Twitter users by analyzing aggressive emotions in 1,281,362 tweets they posted from 2019 to 2020. We selected 3 common aggressive emotions (anger, offensive language, and hate speech) on the internet as the subject of analysis. To detect the emotions in the tweets, we trained a Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) model to analyze the percentage of aggressive tweets in every state and every week. Then, we used the difference-in-differences estimation to measure the impact of lockdown status on increasing aggressive tweets. Since most other independent factors that might affect the results, such as seasonal and regional factors, have been ruled out by time and state fixed effects, a significant result in this difference-in-differences analysis can not only indicate a concrete positive correlation but also point to a causal relationship. Results: In the first 6 months of lockdown in 2020, aggression levels in all users increased compared to the same period in 2019. Notably, users under lockdown demonstrated greater levels of aggression than those not under lockdown. Our difference-in-differences estimation discovered a statistically significant positive correlation between lockdown and increased aggression (anger: P=.002, offensive language: P<.001, hate speech: P=.005). It can be inferred from such results that there exist causal relations. Conclusions: Understanding the relationship between lockdown and aggression can help policymakers address the personal and societal impacts of lockdown. Applying NLP technology and using big data on social media can provide crucial and timely information for this effort.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere38776
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Volume24
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2022

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Twitter
  • causal relationship
  • computer
  • content analysis
  • emotions
  • infodemiology
  • infoveillance
  • internet
  • lockdown
  • natural language processing
  • neural networks
  • online aggression
  • pandemic
  • sentiment analysis
  • social media

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