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Social media users question whether reopening schools is a good idea

Posted July 14, 2020

Social media users in South Carolina and across the nation are expressing concerns about the possibility of reopening K-12 schools in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Social Media Insights Lab at the University of South Carolina analyzed more than 777,000 social media posts on the issue made in the U.S. since July 1, including more than 3,300 in South Carolina.  Both here and nationwide, more people are questioning the possibility of reopening than speaking in favor of it.

The lab used artificial intelligence to get a clearer understanding of this debate. In comments that contain sentiment — about half the posts are informational and do not contain sentiment — there are more than three times as many posts critical of reopening (37 percent) in the national sample than positive ones (11 percent). In South Carolina, more people also oppose reopening than support it, though the difference between the two (33 vs. 19 percent) is not as great.

“Social media users are asking whether masks will be used, if social distancing is possible and whether teachers will be safe,” said Jack Landess, an Insights Lab analyst.  “There are specific concerns over whether schools in low income and minority communities will be hard hit, and some call reopening an attack on the working class.”

The issue of school reopening is a contentious one:

  • President Trump has declared on Twitter that schools must be open in the fall.
  • The governor of Florida has announced that schools will open in August at “full capacity.”
  • U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says schools should be open and fully operational this fall.

All three are attracting a lot of conversation on social media as they are argue that children and the nation will be better off with schools back in session.  DeVos in particular has become a lightning rod for criticism for her lack of education experience.  On Twitter, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called for an education secretary with experience as an educator.  Biden was the top influencer both nationally and in South Carolina on these school reopening conversations. 

About the Social Media Insights Lab

The lab is part of the College of Information and Communications. It is used for teaching, academic research and public reports intended to help people better understand issues of the day.

The Insights Lab software, Crimson Hexagon, uses artificial intelligence to interpret data. View a full list of reports  and follow the lab on Twitter at @UofSCInsights

How is sentiment calculated?
The lab uses software developed by Crimson Hexagon, now known as BrandWatch following a merger. The software gauges the emotional tone of conversations using auto-sentiment artificial intelligence technology. This feature is useful for identifying patterns within large sets of social media data, but it should be noted that auto-sentiment has its limits. For example, it does not always recognize sarcasm, nor does it account for posts which may express more than one emotion.


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