Keywords: COVID-19, Iran, Farsi, Persian, Twitter, Natural Language Processing, Topic Modeling, Social Media
Abstract: Iran, along with China, South Korea, and Italy was among the countries that were hit hard in the first wave of the COVID-19 spread. Twitter is one of the widely-used online platforms by Iranians inside and abroad for sharing their opinion, thoughts, and feelings about a wide range of issues. In this study, using more than 530,000 original tweets in Persian/Farsi on COVID-19, we analyzed the topics discussed among users, who are mainly Iranians, to gauge and track the response to the pandemic and how it evolved over time. We applied a combination of manual annotation of a random sample of tweets and topic modeling tools to classify the contents and frequency of each category of topics. We identified the top 25 topics among which living experience under home quarantine emerged as a major talking point. We additionally categorized the broader content of tweets that shows satire, followed by news, is the dominant tweet type among Iranian users. While this framework and methodology can be used to track public response to ongoing developments related to COVID-19, a generalization of this framework can become a useful framework to gauge Iranian public reaction to ongoing policy measures or events locally and internationally.
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