Going Viral: How FB Reactions In Singapore Surged As Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak Worsened

The outbreak has been in the news since late 2019, but Singaporeans didn’t react in a big way on social media until the country’s first confirmed case was announced on Jan 23.

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Data collected from FB pages of seven Singapore media outlets between Jan 01 and Jan 29 noon, 2020.
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1. DATA, CAVEATS AND DEFINITIONS

Data used for the charts in this post comprise 1,156 FB posts collected between January 1 and noon of January 29 from the public pages of seven Singapore media outlets. They are: CNA, The Straits Times, TODAY, Mothership.sg, Lianhe Zaobao, Lianhe Wanbao and Shin Min Daily News. About 60% of the FB posts are in English, while the rest are in Chinese.

  • A considerable proportion of the FB followers of these seven media outlets are non-Singaporeans. For instance, CNA has large numbers of FB followers from Myanmar and Malaysia. But there is no way, publicly at least, to separate FB interactions originating in Singapore from those overseas.
  • Data from other social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn were not included as FB is the dominant platform, by far, for Singaporeans when it comes to news consumption.
  • To keep things simple, no weight was assigned to each form of user interaction. This means a share or comment on a Wuhan coronavirus breaking news story is counted no differently from a “Like” reaction. But in reality, sharing and commenting are seen as more important forms of social media behaviour as they reflect a higher level of involvement on the part of the users.
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2. ALL’S QUIET, THEN A SURGE

On January 19, the seven media outlets posted just six FB posts on the Wuhan coronavirus. These six posts had a combined total of just 4,979 interactions.

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Data from FB posts between Jan 1 to mid-day of Jan 29, 2020. Outlets chosen: CNA, ST, TODAY, Mothership, Zaobao, Shin Min, Wanbao

3. ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT, DOMINATED BY SHARING OF CONTENT

As I’ve noted above, not all forms of social media engagements are equal, with sharing and commenting seen as “higher” forms of engagement.

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4. MIXED BAG OF EMOTIONS

It’s famously tricky to try to discern the authenticity, much less depth, of so-called emotional responses on social media. FB users can nominally choose to express their moods more clearly using six “emotion” buttons representing “Sad”, “Angry”, “Wow”, “Thankful”, “Haha” and “Love”.

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5. THE ‘OTHER’ OUTBREAK: MANAGING VIRALITY IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

When Sars, which is similar to the Wuhan coronavirus, first sparked global panic in 2003, Facebook was just a cheeky “hot-or-not” game dreamt up by Mark Zuckerberg while he was at Harvard. Twitter would not be created until three years later.

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Sample WhatsApp message sent by the Singapore Government via WhatsApp on Jan 31

6. BONUS SECTION: WHICH MEDIA OUTLETS HAVE DOMINATED COVERAGE OF THE OUTBREAK THUS FAR?

This section is more for media watchers in Singapore, who might be curious about how the various media outlets have performed to date, in terms of user interaction on FB.

6.1 BREAKDOWN BY POSTS PER DAY AND CONTENT TYPE

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6.2 BREAKDOWN BY CUMULATIVE SUM OF FB INTERACTIONS

As mentioned earlier, CNA is crushing it. It has more than twice the number of FB followers than its nearest competitor, The Straits Times, and the results show:

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6.3 BREAKDOWN BY CUMULATIVE SUM OF FB SHARES

For my money, I would rank “Shares” as the most important metric in assessing how the various media outlets have performed on FB, as this particular user behaviour has the biggest bearing on readership traffic.

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Data Science | Media | Politics

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