Government management of the COVID-19 communication and public perception of the pandemic

Tkacukova, Tatiana and Gee, Matt and Kehoe, Andrew and Lawson, Robert and McGlashan, Mark (2021) Government management of the COVID-19 communication and public perception of the pandemic. Working Paper. Birmingham City University, Birmingham.

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The study presented here discusses public reception of the UK-wide government restrictions and regulations in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on language use on Twitter to (1) track the prevalence of diverse opinions and changes in public perceptions and (2) reflect on clarity of official messaging. Our report relates to the four themes outlined as part of the Initial learning from the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic collated by the National Audit Office:

- transparency and public trust: providing transparent public-facing advice through clear and timely communication.

- data and evidence: monitoring public perception of government advice, identifying issues with public compliance and quantifying different types of behaviours/reactions (compliance, non-compliance, call for stricter measures), validating the effectiveness of interventions by systematically gathering and evaluating end-user feedback (comments from the public).

- coordination and delivery models: ensuring that public facing communication from government departments, central and local government, and public sector bodies is effectively coordinated and well-aligned.

- supporting and protecting people: understanding the pandemic’s impact on different groups and the risk of widening inequalities.

The report is based on the results of the UKRI/AHRC-funded TRAC:COVID project carried out at Birmingham City University. The first section draws on the dashboard created as part of the project, accessible online at The dashboard is an open access tool based on 84,138,394 tweets related to coronavirus posted by users in the UK between 1st January 2020 and 30th April 2021. The tool helps explore how social media have been used in the UK during the pandemic to talk about COVID-19. Our analysis shows that throughout the pandemic there has been a widespread support for the main measures used to contain the COVID-19 virus outbreak. In fact, a considerable number of tweets supported the introduction of even stronger measures than those imposed by the government, and many criticised non-compliance as a sign of selfish behaviour. The results also indicate a presence of users who actively used terms related to conspiracy theories and, although these views were found to be in the minority, it is important not to underestimate the role they play in undermining the efforts to contain the pandemic.

The second part of the report reflects on the comprehensibility of official messages sent from government accounts and the accounts of public health bodies. The analysis shows a wide range of language-related problems, ranging from complex use of vocabulary and grammar and vague references to inaccurate information and potential exclusion of some of the intended recipients.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
19 July 2021Published Online
Subjects: CAH19 - language and area studies > CAH19-01 - English studies > CAH19-01-07 - linguistics
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Birmingham Institute of Media and English > School of English
Depositing User: Gee
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2021 08:43
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2022 16:23

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