Welcome to this week’s edition of The Labs Report. 

Last week, we took a look at how COVID-19 is affecting the gig economy. This week, after a massive increase in conversation in general about COVID-19, we’re going back to basics and examining how the world is actually talking about COVID-19.

In Focus: Twitter Talks COVID-19 

There are a lot of different terms, or names, currently being used to describe COVID-19. As the various terms fluctuate in and out of use, it can be confusing to know which is best to use when communicating with your audiences, or even just discussing the virus with your friends, family and community.

To understand how different terms are being used, we leverage the Discover tool in the Zignal platform (which allows you search Twitter’s entire archive of public tweets since it was founded in March 2006) to examine the trajectory of five different terms for COVID-19, including:

  1. “COVID-19”: The widely-accepted official name for the virus, coined by WHO on February 11, 2020.
  2. “coronavirus”: Technically the name of a larger family of viruses, including the common cold and flu, but widely used to describe COVID-19.
  3. “novel coronavrius”: The more specific name for the virus before it was renamed COVID-19.
  4. “coronvirus”: A popular misspelling (among several others) of the virus on Twitter
  5. “chinese virus”: The hotly-contested name for the virus that President Trump has started using in official communications. 

Here’s what we found when we examined the usage of these terms on Twitter starting in the beginning of December 2019.

Looking at the five terms mapped out together, you’ll see that “coronavirus” (orange on the graph above) was the first term to see a major upward trajectory in volume, beginning in the middle of January, dropping a little over the next month and then spiking sharply in mid-March when COVID-19 started to become more prevalent in Europe, the United States and the rest of the world outside of China.

“COVID-19” (dark blue on the graph above) started to see an increase in usage the week after it was coined in mid-February, slowing increasing until it started to pick up significant steam in early March. While it still isn’t close to matching the total volume of mentions that “coronavirus” has, its usage remains on the increase, while “coronavirus” saw a slight dropoff this week, likely as people become more accustomed to using the virus’ official name.

The other three terms we examined, “novel coronavirus,” “chinese virus,” and “coronvirus,” all had lower levels of usage than “COVID-19” and “coronavirus,” making them difficult to analyze on the visualization in the last section. We broke them out into their own visualization here. 

The term with (by a slight margin) the most mentions, “novel coronavirus,” has seen a relatively level amount of usage since the term took off in early January. More technical (and longer) than its more popular alternative “coronavirus,” it’s unsurprising to see this term in the less used set of names for COVID-19.

Interestingly, “chinese virus,” the term that President Trump has just recently started to use in reference to COVID-19, has almost the same number of mentions as “novel coronavirus,” but gained almost all those mentions in the last week, as seen by the sharp spike at the end of the graph. Conversation was likely driven by the increased number of official press conferences and statements that occurred within the last week, as well as online discussion of the political correctness of the term.

Finally, “coronvirus,” a popular misspelling of the virus on Twitter, racked up over 500,000 mentions, but still saw the lowest usage of our less-popular terms, likely as people became more comfortable with either spelling (or correctly identifying) the spelling of the virus.

Digging in a little deeper, we thought it would be interesting to see when one of our two most-widely-used terms, “coronavirus,” was first used on Twitter.

The first-ever usage of “coronavirus” in a public tweet on Twitter was way back on April 12, 2007, when Twitter user @jessaC tweeted out the term in relation to classwork she was completing at the time – a stark contrast to how the term is being used today.

The final takeaway? While “coronavirus” still remains popular, and will inevitably see a spawn of related misspellings as the pandemic continues – not mention any new nicknames for the virus that public officials may popularize – for all official communications or statements, the best term to use is the increasingly-popular and officially-condoned “COVID-19.”

While You Wait

For more information and resources related to COVID-19, please visit our dedicated COVID-19 response page, where you’ll find best practices and tools you can use in your response to COVID-19.

Stay tuned for more coverage on the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19. We’re monitoring the situation in real time and will be providing data-driven updates, insights and analyses on an ongoing basis.

Like what you see? Get in touch with our team to find out more about how Zignal can help you measure the real-time evolution of opinion to shape more powerful brands, campaigns, products, and threat detection.