Clemson Social Media Listening Center teams up with SCEMD to follow COVID-19 conversation online


GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Clemson University’s Social Media Listening Center is teaming up with the South Carolina Emergency Management Division to track the conversation around COVID-19.

Andrew Pyle, who is an assistant professor of communication at Clemson, said what they’ve found online is a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding the virus, as well as differing views about how we as a society should be responding to it.

He also said people in South Carolina are going to social media for information.

“People were saying, ‘Are we allowed to go to beaches right now?’, ‘Are we allowed to…go and get our haircut?’, ‘Are we allowed to go do these things?'” he said.

The Listening Center is tracking these posts then sharing reports on the trends with the SCEMD. It’s something they haven’t done at this level since Hurricane Florence hit in 2018, Pyle said.

“We are into a new territory in many respects,” said Derrec Becker, who is the chief of public information at the SCEMD.

The SCEMD is using that information to make sure people get the information they need, according to Becker.

“What issues can be addressed…if there’s a localized group needing some type of information that maybe we haven’t put out yet or they’re asking a bunch of questions, then the Social Media Listening [Center] has been able to point us in the direction of those folks and get them the help and information they need,” Becker said.

Posting about the virus has waned since the early days of the crisis, according to Pyle, with posts dropping from more than 10,000 a day to less than 5,000 in the last 24 hours.

He said there is an extraordinary amount of misinformation being shared on social media.

“There’s all kinds of just bad information going around, and people are sharing it,” Pyle said.

7 News asked Pyle what he found most surprising in the data.

“How…almost flippantly people think about some of these hazards,” he said.

But he says there is also evidence of people taking it very seriously, with some asking how they can help their neighbors in this time of need.

As for privacy, Pyle said they only analyze public posts and just provide reports on trends, rather than giving user names, or individual posts to SCEMD.

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