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Understanding Public Perceptions of COVID-19 Contact Tracing Apps: Artificial Intelligence–Enabled Social Media Analysis

Cresswell, Kathrin; Tahir, Ahsen; Sheikh, Zakariya; Hussain, Zain; Dom�nguez Hern�ndez, Andr�s; Harrison, Ewen; Williams, Robin; Sheikh, Aziz; Hussain, Amir


Kathrin Cresswell

Ahsen Tahir

Zakariya Sheikh

Zain Hussain

Andr�s Dom�nguez Hern�ndez

Ewen Harrison

Robin Williams

Aziz Sheikh


Background: The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in late 2019 and its subsequent spread worldwide continues to be a global health crisis. Many governments consider contact tracing of citizens through apps installed on mobile phones as a key mechanism to contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Objective: In this study, we sought to explore the suitability of artificial intelligence (AI)–enabled social media analyses using Facebook and Twitter to understand public perceptions of COVID-19 contact tracing apps in the United Kingdom.

Methods: We extracted and analyzed over 10,000 relevant social media posts across an 8-month period, from March 1 to October 31, 2020. We used an initial filter with COVID-19–related keywords, which were predefined as part of an open Twitter-based COVID-19 dataset. We then applied a second filter using contract tracing app–related keywords and a geographical filter. We developed and utilized a hybrid, rule-based ensemble model, combining state-of-the-art lexicon rule-based and deep learning–based approaches.

Results: Overall, we observed 76% positive and 12% negative sentiments, with the majority of negative sentiments reported in the North of England. These sentiments varied over time, likely influenced by ongoing public debates around implementing app-based contact tracing by using a centralized model where data would be shared with the health service, compared with decentralized contact-tracing technology.

Conclusions: Variations in sentiments corroborate with ongoing debates surrounding the information governance of health-related information. AI-enabled social media analysis of public attitudes in health care can help facilitate the implementation of effective public health campaigns.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 17, 2021
Online Publication Date May 17, 2021
Publication Date 2021-05
Deposit Date Jun 3, 2021
Publicly Available Date Jun 3, 2021
Journal Journal of Medical Internet Research
Print ISSN 1439-4456
Publisher Journal of Medical Internet Research
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 23
Issue 5
Article Number e26618
Keywords artificial intelligence; sentiment analysis; COVID-19; contact tracing; social media; perception; app; exploratory; suitability; AI; Facebook; Twitter; United Kingdom; sentiment; attitude; infodemiology; infoveillance
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Understanding Public Perceptions of COVID-19 Contact Tracing Apps: Artificial Intelligence–Enabled Social Media Analysis (606 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited.

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