Thursday, 24 Sep 2020

More celebration of home in online NDP posts this year, study finds

SINGAPORE – The Covid-19 pandemic has not dampened online activity surrounding this year’s National Day.

On the contrary, National Day-related tweets have increased 2½ times when compared with the same period last year.

Although a smaller proportion expressed positive emotions – 61 per cent this year in comparison to 66 per cent last year- negative tweets also fell from 19 per cent to 15 per cent. A bigger percentage were characterised as “neutral” tweets.

More markedly, more people this year emphasised the community and the everyday in a more “authentic and people-oriented” expression of joy, a significant departure from last year when the bulk of posts centred around the main event on Aug 9 evening at the Padang.

The Straits Times worked with Quilt.AI, an artificial intelligence-powered research and tech company, to analyse more than 6,000 tweets – with bots and retweets excluded – over the same two-week period before National Day last year and this year.

The captions and images of 400 National Day-specific Instagram posts in each year were also looked at, although a similar analysis of Facebook posts could not be done as it goes against the platform’s terms of service.

Posts were identified by National Day-related hashtags and through keywords such as “fun pack” and “parade”.

Both Twitter and Instagram showed a change in how people’s sentiments are manifesting online during this period, in a sign that “NDP 2020 has created a narrative of its own”, said Quilt.AI.

While about 40 per cent of tweets in 2019 were characterised as “celebrating spectacle” – including in their posts ideas like “singing”, “concert”, “exhibition” – this had halved to just 20 per cent this year.

Instead, a new category of tweets “celebrating home” emerged, with concepts like “baked goods”, “cuisine”, and “home recordings”, in line with the more heartland-based celebrations during this unprecedented National Day Parade.

Whereas these made up just 1 per cent of related tweets last year, this had increased to 16 per cent this year.

Anthropologist, Dr Angad Chowdhry, co-founder of Quilt.AI, said of the results: “It seems there is a shift from the need for spectacle to the celebration of common humanity this year.

“This authenticity is an outcome of a reimagination of what is important in life. The pandemic has created an existential threat by removing access to familiar markers of identity (and) all of us are now connecting to something deeper.”

Quilt.AI noted that there has also been an increase in tweets that emphasised community engagement. National day tweets about doing good deeds increased by 16 per cent from last year.

A 230 per cent increase in tweets about “recovery” also put this year’s celebrations in context, hinting at people’s hopes of recovering from the effects of the coronavirus and its attendant economic fallout.

In addition, there are suggestions of a small but increased proportion of National Day posts tackling sociopolitical issues such as climate, race and social services, although Quilt.AI said further research has to be done for more concrete conclusions to be drawn.

Dr Chowdhry notes: “The sociopolitical commentary is increasing, but negativity is not, suggesting that a desire for constructive engagement with civil society is on the rise.”

On Instagram, Quilt.AI found that the top emotion in posts this year was “affection”, in contrast to “excitement” last year – an arguably softer emotion which fit the general pattern of the more “low-key” expression of joy on Twitter.

There are also significantly more posts with self-created graphics and illustrations, which Quilt.AI said is about self-expression and a “ground-up display of participation” in the festivities.

Digital management consultant Ryan Lim from QED said more research on other platforms will also have to be done.

Chinese entertainment app TikTok is a growing space while many Singaporeans share messages on WhatsApp, he said, and these need to be taken into account too because they are used by different demographic groups.

But Dr Chowdhry is optimistic about the snapshot. He said: “If positivity is emerging online and surrounding everyone, there is a potential of it to have knock-on effects on how people engage with each other in real life.

“There is data that shows how negativity online impacts everyday life, it stands to reason that positivity does too.”

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