New research shows negativity on social media rose dramatically in Australia at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Australia saw one of the most dramatic declines in online sentiment at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the study. 

An international research team has analysed the sentiment of over 650 million Twitter and Weibo posts across the world over the first half of 2020, and found a rapid decline in sentiment in all countries studied. 

The researchers say the implementation of lockdown policies were often associated with a small positive effect on sentiment, but say the users of these platforms may not paint a complete picture of public sentiment.

On average, there was an observed slower recovery of positive expressed emotions - defined as the number of days taken for the sentiment of a country to recover to half its’ stationary state  - ranging from 1.2 days in Israel to 29.0 days in Turkey. 

By contrast, lockdown policies had a small, positive effect on sentiment expressed in most countries. 

In countries badly hit by the pandemic, the authors suggest that this result could reflect how comparable or even greater levels of psychological distress would occur by allowing the virus to propagate without such restrictions.

This study demonstrates how data from social media can help to understand changes in emotion on a global scale, with the authors suggesting that this may be a useful tool for policymakers.

The study is accessible here.