BACKGROUND: The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in late 2019 and its subsequent spread worldwide continues to be a global health crisis. Many governments consider contact tracing of citizens through apps installed on mobile phones as a key mechanism to contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

OBJECTIVE: In this study, we sought to explore the suitability of artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled social media analyses using Facebook and Twitter to understand public perceptions of COVID-19 contact tracing apps in the United Kingdom.

METHODS: We extracted and analyzed over 10,000 relevant social media posts across an 8-month period, from March 1 to October 31, 2020. We used an initial filter with COVID-19-related keywords, which were predefined as part of an open Twitter-based COVID-19 dataset. We then applied a second filter using contract tracing app-related keywords and a geographical filter. We developed and utilized a hybrid, rule-based ensemble model, combining state-of-the-art lexicon rule-based and deep learning-based approaches.

RESULTS: Overall, we observed 76% positive and 12% negative sentiments, with the majority of negative sentiments reported in the North of England. These sentiments varied over time, likely influenced by ongoing public debates around implementing app-based contact tracing by using a centralized model where data would be shared with the health service, compared with decentralized contact-tracing technology.

CONCLUSIONS: Variations in sentiments corroborate with ongoing debates surrounding the information governance of health-related information. AI-enabled social media analysis of public attitudes in health care can help facilitate the implementation of effective public health campaigns.


This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on https://www.jmir.org/, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

Cite as

Cresswell, K., Tahir, A., Sheikh, Z., Hussain, Z., Domínguez Hernández, A., Harrison, E., Williams, R., Sheikh, A. & Hussain, A. 2021, 'Understanding Public Perceptions of COVID-19 Contact Tracing Apps: Artificial Intelligence-Enabled Social Media Analysis', Journal of Medical Internet Research, 23(5), article no: 26618 . https://doi.org/10.2196/26618

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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