In this paper, a team of US researchers mined opinions on homeopathy for COVID-19 expressed on Twitter. Their investigation was conducted with a dataset of nearly 60K tweets collected during a seven-month period ending in July 2020. The researchers first built text classifiers (linear and neural models) to mine opinions on homeopathy (positive, negative, neutral) from tweets using a dataset of 2400 hand-labeled tweets obtaining an average macro F-score of 81.5% for the positive and negative classes. The researchers applied this model to identify opinions from the full dataset.
The results show that the number of unique positive tweets is twice that of the number of unique negative tweets; but when including retweets, there are 23% more negative tweets overall indicating that negative tweets are getting more retweets and better traction on Twitter. Using a word shift graph analysis on the Twitter bios of authors of positive and negative tweets, the researchers observed that opinions on homeopathy appear to be correlated with political/religious ideologies of the authors (e.g., liberal vs nationalist, atheist vs Hindu).
The authors drew the following conclusions: to our knowledge, this is the first study to analyze public opinions on homeopathy on any social media platform. Our results surface a tricky landscape for public health agencies as they promote evidence-based therapies and preventative measures for COVID-19.
I am not clear on how to interpret this study. What does it show and why is it important? The authors state this:
… our study cannot lead to meaningful conclusions about homeopathy’s overall online landscape. We also enforced the English language constraint while analyzing the tweets which excludes the views and opinions of all the non-English speaking users, who constitute an overwhelming majority of the world’s population. However, our effort is a first step in the direction of examining the support for alternative medicines especially for homeopathy which has not been studied in the past. At least on Twitter, our findings indicate that negative opinions are gaining more traction in the context of COVID-19.
Opinions expressed on Twitter are influenced by an array of entirely different factors many of which are unpredictable or even unknown. Therefore, I am unsure what to make of these findings. Perhaps some of my readers have an idea?